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U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on purging of voter rolls

U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on purging of voter rolls
From CBC - January 10, 2018

The Supreme Court appeared sympathetic Wednesday to states that seek to prune their voting rolls by targeting people who have not voted in a while.

The justices heard arguments in a case from Ohio, among a handful of states that use voters' inactivity to trigger a process that could lead to their removal from voter rolls. A ruling for Ohio could prompt other states to adopt the practice, which generally pits Democrats against Republicans.

Signalling support for Ohio's defence of the process, Justice Anthony Kennedy said states are "trying to protect their voter rolls. What we are talking about are the best tools to implement that reason, to implement that purpose."

Kennedy's vote often is decisive in voting cases that otherwise split conservative and liberal justices.

Justice Stephen Breyer also asked questions that suggested he too could side with Ohio. Breyer repeatedly pressed the lawyer for opponents of the process, but had no questions for the lawyer representing Ohio.

The opponents say a 1992 federal law prohibits using voting inactivity to trigger purges and that Ohio purges registered voters who are still eligible to vote. A federal appeals court sided with the challengers.

Partisan fights over ballot access are being fought across the country. Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to suppress votes from minorities and poorer people who tend to vote for Democrats. Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud.

Failure to return interpreted as a move

Under Ohio rules, registered voters who fail to vote in a two-year period are targeted for eventual removal from registration rolls, even if they have not moved and remain eligible. The state said it only uses the disputed process after first comparing its voter lists with a U.S. postal service list of people who have reported a change of address. But not everyone who moves notifies the post office, the state said.

So the state asks people who have not voted in two years to confirm their eligibility. If they do, or if they show up to vote over the next four years, voters remain registered. If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters.

Ohio is backed by 17 other mostly Republican states and the Trump administration, which reversed the position taken by the Obama administration.

'The evidence we have in the record is that most people throw it in the wastebasket.' - Paul Smith ofCampaign Legal Center, which opposes Ohio

Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned Solicitor General Noel Francisco at length about the switch. "Seems quite unusual that your office would change its position so dramatically," Sotomayor said.

Francisco said the new administration thinks the National Voter Registration Act reflects a compromise between "dramatically increasing the number of voters on the voter rolls" and "giving states the flexibility they need to manage the issues that arise when you have overinflated voter rolls."

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