Feds back Husted in lawsuit over voter purging method

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. CONTRIBUTED

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Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. CONTRIBUTED

The battle over how Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted purges voters from the registration rolls took a turn Tuesday when attorneys general from 17 states, the U.S. Department of Justice, and others filed briefs in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that say Husted’s method is solid.

Husted’s office flags voters who haven’t cast ballots in two years and mails them a notice, asking them to confirm their address. If they fail to respond and don’t vote in the subsequent four years, they’re dropped from the registration rolls.

The process impacts roughly 1 million infrequent voters.

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The A. Philip Randoph Institute, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and others filed a federal lawsuit over the process in April 2016. Those groups say the National Voter Registration Act, which passed in 1993, allows registration cancellation based on death, change of address and other reasons but not failure to vote.

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Husted won at the U.S. District Court level in June 2016 but lost on appeal before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2016. Now the case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice weighed in on Husted’s side.

Likewise, attorneys general from Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia said in a brief that Ohio’s process is accurate, cost-effective and permitted under the law.

“States with finite resources need targeted, efficient ways to remove ineligible voters while ensuring that they keep eligible voters on the list. Relying on change-of-address data from the U.S. Postal Service is one way, but using that data alone certainly will leave many ineligible voters on states’ lists; after all, a great many people do not notify the Postal Service when they move,” the brief said.

ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Freda Levenson said in a written statement that the DOJ is reversing its decades-long held position that voter purges are illegal under the National Voter Registration Act. The new position threatens voting rights, she said.

“The DOJ has completely abandoned its own opinion that it recently submitted to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in this very case when it weighed in on the side of the ACLU to say the purge was unlawful. The facts of this case have not changed since this ruling; there is no reason for the DOJ to depart from the extremely important principle at issue in this case. Allowing these purges will keep eligible voters away from the ballot.”

Ohio has nearly 7.9 million registered voters.

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