Ohioans who do not vote in three consecutive federal elections automatically have their registrations cancelled. In 2015, that meant that roughly 40,000 people living in Ohio’s largest county — largely low-income and minority voters — were disenfranchised. Over the last five years, roughly two million people have been removed from the rolls.
Demos and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, alleging that the massive purge of Ohio’s voter rolls is illegal and violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), know as the “motor voter law.” Under that law, states can only remove voters from the rolls if they request the removal, die, or move out of state, and the list maintenance program must be nondiscriminatory.
The most recent massive purge, conducted in 2015, removed 40,000 voters in Cuyahoga County. Those voters either failed to vote in three consecutive federal elections or in the intervening local elections, a practice which Ohio calls the “Supplemental Process.”
“We have spoken to purged voters from around the state of Ohio who tried to vote in the November 2015 local election and were turned away,” Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said in a statement. “The already widespread disenfranchisement that has resulted from this process is likely to be much worse in a presidential election year.”
This unlawful practice must stop, and it must stop now.
The ACLU attorneys allege that not only is the process illegal, but it’s also unnecessary — the state already uses the Postal Service’s information to keep its rolls up-to-date, and those lists provide a more accurate representation of active voters who still live in the state.
While Husted claims that a large number of the purged voters are deceased, state Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D) says Ohio is too aggressive in purging people from the voter rolls, especially given that so many eligible Cuyahoga County voters were disenfranchised last year. Clyde has introduced legislation that would allow voters to be purged from the rolls only if they are confirmed to have moved out of state.
Wednesday’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of two non-profit organizations, including the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. Brian Davis, the director of that organization, said in a statement that homeless voters are illegally shut out of the democratic process because of Ohio’s recent purges.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to block Ohio from conducting purges in the future, and for the restoration of the illegally purged voters to the rolls.
“This unlawful practice must stop, and it must stop now,” Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, said in a statement. “Without immediate court intervention, many Ohio voters will find themselves denied this fundamental right when they go to the polls in November.”
Ohio is often considered one of the most important battleground states in the country, and the make-up of its electorate could play an oversized role in determining the next president.
Husted, Ohio’s election director, has already been targeted with legal action over his attempts to prevent people from voting this year. In early March, Bernie Sanders’ campaign filed suit against Husted alleging that his decision to bar 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by Election Day from voting in the primary was an “unconstitutional attempt to block young voters from casting ballots.” A few days after the lawsuit was filed, a judge granted the request and issued an emergency order blocking Husted’s effort.
And this is not his first time trying to illegally purge voter registrations. In 2014, he agreed to join an error-riddled multi-state voter purge database which he claimed would prevent voters from casting ballots in multiple states during an election. Also during the 2014 election, more than 10,000 absentee ballots were rejected throughout Ohio, a number Clyde said is unusually high.
Husted became an infamous figure in the 2012 election for his efforts to cut early voting, going so far as to defy a court order requiring early voting hours to be restored in 2012.
He has also launched an investigation into alleged voter fraud by non-citizens in his state, but his efforts turned up nearly nothing. He announced last year that 145 non-citizens were registered to vote illegally in 2014, amounting to just .0002 percent of the 7.7 million registered voters in the state. Husted also wrote a letter to President Obama in which he claimed the executive action on immigration will lead to non-citizens registering to vote.