Justice Department Reverses Course In Major Ohio Voting Rights Case

Marsha Scott
August 10, 2017

The U.S. Department of Justice has reversed an Obama-era decision that attempted to curtail the OH government's efforts to cleanup voting rolls.

Following that decision, a federal district court entered an injunction for the November 2016 presidential election that allowed more than 7,500 OH voters to cast a ballot.

In a court filing Monday, four DOJ attorneys wrote that the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) allows states like OH to remove voters from the rolls after it sends them a notice alerting them that they will be purged.

In 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Demos filed a lawsuit on behalf of Larry Harmon, 60, an OH resident who was purged from the voter rolls after he decided not to vote in two elections.

Ohio's Secretary of State office planned to remove from voter rolls people who hadn't cast a ballot in six years. "After a registrant has failed to respond to notices and not vote in multiple elections, they may be cleaned from the rolls". Declining to vote did not provide such evidence, the DOJ argued.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless sued the state in 2016 because federal law prohibits states from removing voters for not voting. The lawsuit argues that the policy violated the NVRA, which prohibits states from purging registered voters "by reason of the person's failure to vote". In February, shortly after Jeff Sessions became attorney general, the department dropped its position in a long-running case that argued Texas meant to discriminate against minorities when it passed a strict voter-ID law.

"I welcome the support of these federal officials, state officials, and advocacy groups who filed with the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Ohio's process - a process that has been in place for more than two decades and administered the same way by both Republican and Democrat secretaries of state".

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In the Husted case, Adams said in a Wednesday statement, those in opposition "are keeping voter rolls filled with dead and ineligible voters". "The Justice Department's latest action opens the door for wide-scale unlawful purging of the voter registration rolls across our country".

However, Ohio appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case, and the new DOJ-headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose history with regard to civil rights has raised concerns since President Donlad Trump nominated him-has now revised its guidance for the law.

VANITA GUPTA: This case will have a significant impact on what states believe they can do in order to purge voters off of the rolls.

"The Department of Justice's latest reversal of its position in a critical voting rights case represents just the latest example of an agency whose leadership has lost its moral compass", she said.

To the contrary, groups from the ACLU to the League of Women Voters say the Husted case sets off alarms because it's more about potentially stopping people from exercising their legal right to vote than stopping wrongdoers.

On Monday, the Justice Department reversed its stance, arguing that the OH policy does not violate the NVRA, since "the NVRA does not prohibit a State from using non voting as the basis for sending a [confirmation] notice".

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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