Paul M. Smith, CLC Vice President for Litigation and Strategy, argued this case before the Supreme Court on January 10, 2018 on behalf of the Ohio voter plaintiffs.
Husted v. Randolph Institute is a challenge to Ohio’s unjustified purge of thousands of registered voters from its voter rolls. Under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), states may not purge voters simply for failure to vote. Nonetheless, Ohio’s purge process does precisely that. If a voter fails to vote for two years, they are sent a single notice and must take affirmative steps to remain on the rolls. If this confirmation is lost in the mail, misplaced or forgotten, and the individual does not vote in the next two elections, the voter is purged and will not be able to vote in the future without re-registering entirely.
The ACLU and Demos sued. The Sixth Circuit agreed that Ohio’s purges were unlawful. The case is now before the Supreme Court.
What’s at Stake?
Every state (except one) requires voters to be registered in order to vote. In 1993, in order to expand participation in our democracy, Congress passed the NVRA to make sure that registration is relatively easy and that voters aren’t unduly purged from the roles. It specifically forbade purges on the basis of failure to vote. Ohio’s purge process flouts the NVRA and, if it continues, will disenfranchises thousands of voters simply because they decided not to vote in certain elections.
People often don’t vote in a given election but plan to vote in future elections. Indeed, many voters face substantial obstacles—long lines, inadequate transportation, demanding work schedules—to the right to vote and may not make it to the polls every election for those reasons. If states are allowed to kick voters off the rolls for this reason alone, these voters will likely not find out until it is too late to re-register. The result is they will be prevented from voting entirely, despite being eligible (and, rightfully registered) voters. In 2016, thousands of eligible voters appeared to vote and discovered they had unlawfully been purged from the rolls. Because of this case, they were allowed to vote a provisional ballot.
Campaign Legal Center Files Friend-of-the-Court Brief
CLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Supreme Court arguing that Ohio’s program serves to further burden, and potentially disenfranchise, voters who already have to hurdle significant barriers to participate in our democracy. Low-income, disabled, and elderly citizens all face particular burdens on the right to vote: a majority of polling places are still not accessible to disabled voters; disabled, low-income, and elderly voters all disproportionately cite transportation as a reason they did not vote; and low-income voters struggle to get to the polls while juggling work schedules, child care, and other demands on their time and resources. If these voters are kicked off the voter rolls solely because they don’t make it to the polls, they are even more likely not to be able to vote in future elections. Requiring these voters to re-register in order to vote undermines the very purpose of the NVRA and pushes people out of civic life.