During the recent government funding debate, Democrats insisted on a “clean” Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals bill. Clean voter rolls? Not so much.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, a case out of Ohio involving the integrity of elections.
More specifically, at issue is Ohio’s practice of keeping its voter registration rolls “clean” and up to date through an elaborate six-year-plus process intended to remove the names of voters who have died or moved, either within the state or out of state, as well as duplicate registrations.
Democrats and their liberal interest-group allies, who apparently prefer “dirty” and outdated voter rolls, are seeking to prevent Ohio from continuing this practice.
They contend that Ohio’s procedure violates the 1993 federal National Voter Registration Act, better known as the “motor voter” law, which prohibits the government from canceling registrations solely for not voting.
Ohio, represented by Secretary of State Jon Husted, denies that that’s what’s happening in the Buckeye State.
Names are not removed arbitrarily, much less solely for the act of not voting, but rather only after a lengthy process of attempting to verify continued residence at the same address.
In its legal defense, Ohio cites a provision of the motor voter law that urges states to keep their voter registration rolls accurate.
The federal law allows names to be removed from the rolls when a voter fails to respond to a mailed, nonforwardable request to confirm one’s registration. That request is sent out only after one has failed to vote in a federal election and then failed to vote in two subsequent election cycles.
But Ohio goes an extra mile to keep voters in the loop, sending out a variety of mailings over a four-year period, such as absentee ballot request forms and change-of-address cards.
“If the voter responds to any of these notices—or votes even once during that four years—they remain registered,” The Columbus Dispatch reported.
“They’re removed if they fail to vote over six years, which is more than the minimum protections,” Ohio state Solicitor Eric Murphy told the justices in the state’s appeal of an unfavorable September 2016 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
That ruling came ahead of the November 2016 election, and as a result, about 7,500 Ohio voters whose names had been removed were allowed to cast provisional ballots.
So, while the voter roll cleaning process was doubtlessly inconvenient for them, there was “no harm, no foul,” and they presumably got their names restored on the lists.
The plaintiffs in the case argued that voters shouldn’t be penalized for not voting, particularly if in any given election they don’t like any of the candidates on the ballot.
That’s a valid point—but if missing three consecutive election cycles and ignoring the mailed-out inquiries aren’t sufficient grounds for removal from the rolls, what should that threshold be?
The plaintiffs wouldn’t, or couldn’t, say.
No process for ensuring the accuracy of the voter rolls is perfect and error-free, and in context, those 7,500 voters represent a minuscule fraction of the hundreds of thousands of names that have been rightly purged from Ohio’s voter lists every year in the interest of preventing voter fraud.
The names of those deceased or otherwise departed from Ohio should not be kept on the rolls just to avoid the rare possibility of disenfranchisement.
Underscoring this point was a September report by the nonprofit Public Interest Legal Foundation. That report found that some 248 counties across 24 states had more names on their voter rolls than the total number of people of voting age in those counties at the time of the 2016 election, per Census Bureau figures.
Those counties included New York County (aka Manhattan), with a whopping 54 percent more, and California’s San Diego County.
The stakes in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute thus extend far beyond the borders of the perennial swing state of Ohio. If Ohio’s election integrity efforts win the Supreme Court’s blessing, then the 17 states that filed amicus briefs in the case will likely follow its lead. Other states could follow suit.
“Clean” elections may be dirty pool as far as the Democrats are concerned, but they are critical for maintaining fair democratic elections.