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Supreme Court Allows States to Remove Registrations of Nonvoters

In a narrow decision, the U.S. Supreme Court said a state may remove voter registrations for people who don't confirm their addresses and don't vote for years.

In Husted v. Philip Randolph Institute, the Justices reversed an appeals court decision that found Ohio's deregistration process violated voters' rights. The state sent people who failed to vote requests to confirm their address, and if they didn't respond or vote for four years, officials removed them from the list of registered voters.

In the 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court revived a controversial process that no doubt will encourage other states trying to clean up registration rolls.

"Six Years of Nonvoting"

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority decision. They said Ohio's law did not violate the National Voter Registration Act, as alleged by the petitioners.

The NVRA "forbids the use of nonvoting as the sole criterion for removing a registrant, and Ohio does not use it that way," the Justices said. Instead, Ohio notifies nonvoters first and then removes them if they fail to respond.

"Combined with the two years of nonvoting before notice is sent, that makes a total of six years of nonvoting before removal," Alito wrote.

He said the dissenters, led by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, were substituting their judgments for lawmakers'.

Not a Policy Question

Alito said the dissenters had a policy disagreement with Ohio and Congress. But the case was about statutory interpretation, he said, not policy.

"We have no authority to second-guess Congress or to decide whether Ohio's supplemental process is the ideal method for keepings its voting rolls up to date," he wrote. "The only question before us is whether it violates federal law. It does not."

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said the decision was a victory for election integrity and Ohio's efforts to clean up voter rolls. Mryna Perez, a voting rights advocate, said Ohio is one of only a few states with the notification process.

"Our worry is that other states will take this decision as a green light to implement more aggressive voter purges as the 2018 elections loom," she told Courthouse News.

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