A group of civil-rights organizations, including the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the think tank Demos, and the ACLU of Ohio, filed a lawsuit against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted challenging the supplemental process’s legality in early 2016. They pointed to two federal laws, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002, that forbid states from removing registered voters from the rolls for simply not voting. Husted countered that the federal provision doesn’t apply because the supplemental process doesn’t force voters from the rolls unless they’ve also failed to respond to the mailed confirmation notice. By his apparent estimation, that intervening step means the state hasn’t broken either law.
A federal district court initially dismissed the lawsuit. But a three-judge panel in the Sixth Circuit sided with the organizations, ruling that the prohibition against removing eligible Americans for not voting would be meaningless if states are allowed to use inactivity as one reason, even among many, to strike their names. “In more concrete terms, a state cannot avoid the conclusion that its process results in removal ‘solely by reason of a failure to vote,’ by providing that the confirmation notice procedure is triggered by a registrant’s failure either to vote or to climb Mt. Everest or to hit a hole-in-one,” the court wrote.
Husted appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in February and applauded the justices for agreeing to hear it. “Maintaining the integrity of the voter rolls is essential to conducting an election with efficiency and integrity,” he said in a statement. “The decision by the Court to hear this case is encouraging. I remain confident that once the justices review this case they will rule to uphold the decades-old process that both Republicans and Democrats have used in Ohio to maintain our voter rolls as consistent with federal law.”
The organizations that brought the lawsuit, for their part, reiterated their view that the purge wrongly targeted disadvantaged Ohioans for disenfranchisement. “In Cuyahoga County alone, approximately 40,000 individuals were unlawfully purged merely for choosing not to vote, and a disproportionate number of those people came from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color,” Andre Washington, the president of APRI’s Ohio chapter, said in a statement. “The Supreme Court must uphold the Sixth Circuit’s decision to ensure that all Ohio citizens have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.”
Freda Levenson, the director of the ACLU of Ohio, went even further, describing the supplemental process as “a powerful mechanism” of voter suppression that violates federal law. “We are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the correct decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and will ultimately ensure that eligible Ohio voters may not be stricken from the rolls,” she said in a statement.