WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in an important voting rights case which carries significant implications for voters nationwide. In Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, Justices will consider whether Ohio’s widespread voter purges violated the National Voter Registration Act, a law designed to prohibit aggressive purges like the very one used in the Buckeye State.
The Husted case comes at a critical moment for the fight for voting rights and ongoing resistance to voter purges that remain a threat to our democracy. Just last week, after shutting down the ill-conceived Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, President Trump called on the Department of Homeland Security to investigate unfounded claims of voter fraud.
“Voter purge programs like the one at issue in Ohio are part of a coordinated effort we are witnessing across the country to suppress the rights of voters. The National Voter Registration Act was enacted to encourage voter participation and strengthen our democracy. Aggressive voter purges like the one carried out by Ohio strip away the rights of registered voters and stand in clear violation of the NVRA,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “It is regrettable that the Justice Department, led by Attorney General Sessions, reversed course in this important civil rights case. At a time when we should be encouraging Americans to participate in the democratic process, voter purges like the one in Ohio must be rejected.”
In August, the U.S. Justice Department filed a brief in which it reversed its previous position in the case and opened the door for purge programs across the nation. In its brief, the Justice Department indicates that it has “now concluded that the NVRA does not prohibit a State from using nonvoting as the basis for sending a Section 20507(d)(2) notice.”
However, the NVRA was designed to increase voter registration and turnout rates, specifically in communities of color. In an amicus brief filed in September, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law noted that racial minorities are disproportionately affected under Ohio’s removal process, especially after lower turnout midterm elections. In 2014, 67 percent of registered non-Hispanic whites cast a ballot compared to 63 percent of registered African Americans, 56 percent of Asians or Pacific Islanders, and 53 percent of Latinos.
“Congress was keenly aware that the failure to vote is not a reliable indicator whether a registered voter has moved, and for that reason expressly prohibited States from purging voters due to a failure to vote,” the brief states. “Congress thus squarely answered the question of whether the method utilized in Ohio’s Supplemental Process is a legitimate ‘reasonable effort’ for the maintenance of accurate voter registration rolls: it is not.”
A link to the brief can be found here.