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Voting rolls may not be restored despite court ruling

Advocates urge voters to check status before Oct. 11 deadline.

The voting status of 1.2 million infrequent voters in Ohio remains in doubt despite a federal court ruling last week that says Ohio’s practice of purging the names from registration rolls violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

Voting rights advocates on Tuesday launched a campaign to get voters to verify their registrations ahead of the Oct. 11 deadline. They also continued to press Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to reverse course on a practice of purging infrequent voters from registration rolls if they haven’t cast ballots in years.

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Husted indicated he may appeal last week’s ruling from the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The decision was tremendous,” state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, said at a press conference in Columbus Tuesday. “More than 1.2 million voters will be able to vote again.”

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But the 1.2 million dropped voters won’t necessarily be automatically added back to the registration rolls. The appeals court left it up to the district court to decide what should happen.

The Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition held a news conference in Dayton to promote voter registration and warn people that they need to double-check to be sure they are still registered and haven’t been purged from the rolls.

“On Election Day you are not going to want to be left out of being able to vote,” said Ellis Jacobs, senior attorney of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality and a coalition member. “But the only way you can vote is if you are registered and there are two more weeks to get registered.”

Patty Skilken, president of the League of Women Voters of the Greater Dayton Area, said there are legitimate reasons people are removed from the rolls — such as when they die, move and don’t re-register, or their names change due to marriage or divorce. She said the league was part of the case opposing removal for inactivity.

“Check and make sure you are registered,” said Skilken. “If there’s any doubt in your mind about whether or not you are registered, go ahead and register again. It won’t hurt anything.”

In the past seven years, 500,000 deceased voters have been removed from Ohio’s registration rolls and 1.4 million duplicate registrations have been resolved, according to Husted spokesman Josh Eck. Currently, Ohio has more than 7.7 million registered voters. By Clyde’s count, 846,000 were removed for not voting frequently enough, 481,000 were removed because they moved, 330,000 died and 196,000 were purged for other reasons.

Husted, a Republican, said the ruling overturns 20 years of Ohio law and a practice that has been carried out by the last four secretaries of state.

“It also reverses a federal court settlement from just two years ago that required exactly the opposite action,” he said in a written statement.

Eck said that Husted’s purging policy mirrors that of previous secretaries of state Bob Taft, J. Kenneth Blackwell and Jennifer Brunner. Taft and Blackwell are Republicans and Brunner a Democrat.

Voters who don’t cast ballots for two years, including one federal election, are sent an address confirmation card, said Eck. If they do not respond to the card, request an absentee ballot, update their address, or vote during the following four years they are removed from the rolls.

Eck noted that within that six-year period, voters are also offered chances at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to update their voter registration when they’re renewing their driver’s license; the secretary of state’s office also sent them applications for absentee ballots in the 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections.

But Jacobs said properly registered voters shouldn’t be kicked off the rolls just because they haven’t been active voters. And former Democratic State Sen. Tom Roberts charged that in the past several years the Republican-dominated state legislature and Husted’s directives have attacked voters’ rights at great taxpayer expense.

“We don’t need to spend anymore of taxpayer’s dollars,” said Roberts, political action chair for the Dayton and Ohio NAACP, which has been a plaintiff in voting rights battles with the state. “We need to follow the court’s order, restore those individuals’ right to vote and quit messing with the right to vote in the state of Ohio.”

Meanwhile, both state political parties on Tuesday also urged Ohioans to register to vote, part of National Voter Registration Day. Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges sent out an email blast urging Ohioans to check their registration and learn how to request an absentee ballot. And the Ohio Democratic Party released a 45-second public service announcement from the cast of Orange is the New Black. You can see the video here: http://ohiotogether.com/

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