With renewed vigor, Supreme Court scrutinizes curbs on voting

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Government officials across the United States try to maintain accurate voter rolls by removing people who have died or moved away. But a case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday explores whether some states are aggressively purging voter rolls in a way that disenfranchises thousands of voters.

The justices will hear arguments in Republican-governed Ohio's appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked its policy of erasing from voter registration lists people who do not regularly cast a ballot. Under the policy, such registration is deleted if the person goes six years without either voting or contacting state voting officials.

"Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and it is much too important to treat as a 'use it or lose it' right," said Stuart Naifeh, a voting rights lawyer with liberal advocacy group Demos, which is representing plaintiffs challenging Ohio's policy along with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Voting rights has been an important theme before the Supreme Court during their nine-month term that began in October, in particular the question of whether actions by state leaders have disenfranchised thousands of voters either by marginalizing their electoral clout or by prohibiting them from voting.

RELATED: Supreme Court justices

9 PHOTOS
Supreme Court Justices
See Gallery
Supreme Court Justices

John Roberts, Chief Justice

Born: 1955

Joined Supreme Court: 2005

Appointed by: George W. Bush

Votes: Conservative

US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is followed by Elena Kagan on her way to take the Judicial Oath to become the 112th US Supreme Court justice, in Washington on August 7, 2010. (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Born: 1933

Joined Supreme Court: 1993

Appointed by: Bill Clinton

Votes: Liberal

(Photo by Dennis Brack/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Anthony Kennedy

Born: 1936

Joined Supreme Court: 1988

Appointed by: Ronald Reagan

Votes: Conservative/Center

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy listens to opening statements during a Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Clarence Thomas

Born: 1948

Joined Supreme Court: 1991

Appointed by: George H.W. Bush

Votes: Conservative

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas testifies during a hearing before the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee April 15, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Stephen Breyer

Born: 1938

Joined Supreme Court: 1994

Appointed by: Bill Clinton

Votes: Liberal/Center

United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer speaks at the Harvard University Institute of Politics John F. Kennedy School of Government John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on November 6, 2015 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Samuel Alito

Born: 1950

Joined Supreme Court: 2006

Appointed by: George W. Bush

Votes: Conservative

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito speaks during the Georgetown University Law Center's third annual Dean's Lecture to the Graduating Class in the Hart Auditorium in McDonough Hall February 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sonia Sotomayor

Born: 1954

Joined Supreme Court: 2009

Appointed by: Barack Obama

Votes: Liberal

Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States Sonia Sotomayor discusses her book 'My Beloved World' presented in association with Books and Books at Bank United Center on February 1, 2013 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/FilmMagic)

Elena Kagan

Born: 1960

Joined Supreme Court: 2010

Appointed by: Barack Obama

Votes: Liberal

Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Elena Kagan speaks onstage at the FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit on October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for FORTUNE)
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch participates in taking a new family photo with his fellow justices at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Two other cases could have a big impact on U.S. elections. At issue is whether Republican-drawn electoral districts in Wisconsin and Democratic-drawn districts in Maryland were fashioned to entrench the majority party in power in such an extreme way that they violated the constitutional rights of certain voters. The practice is called partisan gerrymandering.

The conservative-majority court also could take up other voting rights disputes this term including a bid by Texas to revive Republican-drawn electoral districts that were thrown out by a lower court for discriminating against black and Hispanic voters.

Most states periodically cleanse their voter rolls to prevent irregularities, such as someone voting more than once on Election Day. Ohio is one of seven states, along with Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, that purge infrequent voters from registration lists, according to the plaintiffs who sued Ohio in 2016.

"Among those, Ohio is the most aggressive. It has the shortest timeline for removing people for non-voting," Naifeh said.

'EFFICIENCY AND INTEGRITY'

Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted noted that the state's policy has been in place since the 1990s under Republican and Democratic secretaries of state. "Maintaining the integrity of the voter rolls is essential to conducting an election with efficiency and integrity," Husted said when the court agreed to hear the case last May.

In Ohio, registered voters do not vote for two years are sent registration confirmation notices. If they do not respond and do not vote over the following four years, they are purged.

Democrats have accused Republicans of taking steps at the state level, including laws requiring certain types of government-issued identification, intended to suppress the vote of minorities, poor people and others who generally favor Democratic candidates.

A 2016 Reuters analysis found roughly twice the rate of voter purging in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods in Ohio's three largest counties as in Republican-leaning neighborhoods.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled in September 2016 that Ohio's policy ran afoul of a 1993 law that prohibits states from striking registered voters "by reason of the person's failure to vote."

RELATED: How every state voted in the 2016 election

49 PHOTOS
How every state voted in the 2016 election
See Gallery
How every state voted in the 2016 election

Alabama

Donald Trump: 1,318,255 votes

Hillary Clinton: 729,547 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Alaska

Donald Trump: 163,387 votes

Hillary Clinton: 116,454 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Arkansas

Donald Trump: 684,872 votes

Hillary Clinton: 380,494 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Arizona

Donald Trump: 1,252,401 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,161,167 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Connecticut

Donald Trump: 673,315 votes

Hillary Clinton: 897,572 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

California

Donald Trump: 4,483,810 votes

Hillary Clinton: 8,753,788 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Alaska

Donald Trump: 163,387 votes

Hillary Clinton: 116,454 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Colorado

Donald Trump: 1,202,484 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,338,870 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Delaware

Donald Trump: 185,127 votes

Hillary Clinton: 235,603 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Florida

Donald Trump: 4,617,886 votes

Hillary Clinton: 4,504,975 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Georgia

Donald Trump: 2,089,104 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,877,963 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Hawaii

Donald Trump: 128,847 votes

Hillary Clinton: 266,891 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Iowa

Donald Trump: 800,983 votes

Hillary Clinton: 653,669 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Illinois

Donald Trump: 2,146,015 votes

Hillary Clinton: 3,090,729 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Idaho

Donald Trump: 409,055 votes

Hillary Clinton: 189,765 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Indiana

Donald Trump: 1,557,286 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,033,126 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Kansas

Donald Trump: 671,018 votes

Hillary Clinton: 427,005 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Kentucky

Donald Trump: 1,202,971 votes

Hillary Clinton: 628,854 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Louisiana

Donald Trump: 1,178,638 votes

Hillary Clinton: 780,154 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Maine

Donald Trump: 335,543 votes

Hillary Clinton: 357,735 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Massachusetts

Donald Trump: 1,090,893 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,995,196 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Michigan

Donald Trump: 2,279,543 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,268,839 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Minnesota

Donald Trump: 1,323,232 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,367,825 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Mississippi

Donald Trump: 700,714 votes

Hillary Clinton: 485,131 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Missouri

Donald Trump: 1,594,511 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,071,068 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Montana

Donald Trump: 279,240 votes

Hillary Clinton: 177,709 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Nebraska

Donald Trump: 495,961 votes

Hillary Clinton: 284,494 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Nevada

Donald Trump: 512,058 votes

Hillary Clinton: 539,260 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New Hampshire

Donald Trump: 345,790 votes

Hillary Clinton: 348,526 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New Jersey

Donald Trump: 1,601,933 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,148,278 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New Mexico

Donald Trump: 319,667 votes

Hillary Clinton: 385,234 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

New York

Donald Trump: 2,819,534 votes

Hillary Clinton: 4,556,124 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

North Dakota

Donald Trump: 216,794 votes

Hillary Clinton: 93,758 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Ohio

Donald Trump: 2,841,005 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,394,164 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Oklahoma

Donald Trump: 949,136 votes

Hillary Clinton: 420,375 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Oregon

Donald Trump: 782,403 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,002,106 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Pennsylvania

Donald Trump: 2,970,733 votes

Hillary Clinton: 2,926,441 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Rhode Island

Donald Trump: 180,543 votes

Hillary Clinton: 252,525 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

South Carolina

Donald Trump: 1,155,389 votes

Hillary Clinton: 855,373 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

South Dakota

Donald Trump: 227,721 votes

Hillary Clinton: 117,458 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Tennessee

Donald Trump: 1,522,925 votes

Hillary Clinton: 870,695 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Texas

Donald Trump: 4,685,047 votes

Hillary Clinton: 3,877,865 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Utah

Donald Trump: 515,231 votes

Hillary Clinton: 310,676 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Vermont

Donald Trump: 95,259 votes

Hillary Clinton: 178,573 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Virginia

Donald Trump: 1,769,443 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,981,473 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Washington

Donald Trump: 1,221,747 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,742,718 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

West Virginia

Donald Trump: 489,371 votes

Hillary Clinton: 188,794 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Wisconsin

Donald Trump: 1,405,284 votes

Hillary Clinton: 1,382,536 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

Wyoming

Donald Trump: 174,419 votes

Hillary Clinton: 55,973 votes

Data courtesy of the New York Times

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Following that ruling, about 7,500 Ohio voters who otherwise would have been barred were able to cast ballots in the November 2016 election, the state said. A total of 5.6 million ballots were cast statewide.

Even as courts have invalidated Republican-drawn electoral districts targeting racial minorities, partisan gerrymandering and purging of voter rolls have emerged as tools to suppress voting, voting rights advocates said.

"What we're seeing is a real moment as to whether or not we're going to be a country that makes voting free, fair and accessible, or are we going to put a bunch of barriers in front of the ballot box," said Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and elections project at New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice.

Other experts called Ohio's policy reasonable to maintain ballot integrity.

"To suppress is utter nonsense. What we are doing is enforcing the law," said Bradley Schlozman, who supervised the U.S. Justice Department's voting section under Republican former President George W. Bush.

"All voting cases now seem to take on this political flavor and each side now ascribes impure and partisan motives to the other. It's unfortunate," Schlozman added.

One Ohio man, a Trumbull County truck driver and Army veteran, said in an affidavit supporting the plaintiffs in the lawsuit he was "completely blindsided" after learning he was no longer registered to vote for the 2016 election. The last time he voted, he said, was in 2008. He told a county election board official by email that he is a U.S. citizen born in Ohio and should be reinstated to the rolls.

If not, he suggested also purging his name as a taxpayer.

"We'll call us square!" the man wrote.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.