Outlandish and outrageous as this scenario may sound, it is precisely what Ohio is doing with respect to its citizens’ exercise of another fundamental right – the right to vote. Ohio uses a procedure that removes voters from the registration rolls because they have not voted in recent years. The process is based on the faulty assumption that if a voter does not make it to the polls in consecutive elections, they must have moved and are no longer eligible to vote in the jurisdiction. Voters who find themselves caught in the purge may be turned away from their local polling place and, because Ohio lacks options for registering at the polls, without any opportunity to participate in that election.
This week, the United States Supreme Court will hear lawyers for the A. Philip Randolph Institute argue that Ohio’s purge process violates the National Voter Registration Act, which makes it clear that states cannot remove voters from the rolls “by reason of” their failure to vote. On the surface, the questions before the Court in Husted v. APRI may seem like dry matters of statutory interpretation, but their impact is far-reaching. Since 2010, 23 states have imposed new restrictions on voting such as making registration harder for citizens, cutting back early voting and imposing strict ID requirements. Such restrictions disproportionately affect people of color and a purge procedure only makes matters worse, further preventing eligible voters from participating in our democracy.