Civil rights groups argue that when the state of Ohio purged names of nonvoters it violated Federal law, but Ohio countered that it is purging names to prevent voter fraud. On Jan. 10, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the voting rights case.
When Larry Harmon tried to vote in 2015 he discovered his name had been purged from the voting records. Even though Harmon lived in the same home for more than 16 years, Ohio removed him from the voting lists. He had chosen not to vote in 2009 and 2010. Nor had he returned a notice asking if he was a resident.
Wearing a mask that says “silenced,” Appollos Baker, with the American Federation of Government Employees, rallies outside the Supreme Court in opposition to Ohio’s voter roll purges, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Based on Ohio law, Harmon and thousands of other registered voters were then unknowingly purged from voting lists. He was turned away at the polls.
Harmon, along with the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, filed a lawsuit seeking to stop Ohio from removing the names of registered voters from voter rolls. They argued that purging the names was a violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
The organizations demanded Ohio reinstate otherwise eligible voters who were improperly removed from the rolls pursuant to the Supplemental Process or to count provisional ballots cast by such persons.
There is no law against not voting. Nor should there be a punishment, say lawyers with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) were intended to increase voter participation by making it easier to register to vote. These laws led to more voter registration outlets, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. The NVRA and HAVA also prevent states from removing names in a manner that is discriminatory. Moreover, NVRA and HAVA specifically say that states cannot remove names “from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote.”
However, Ohio countered that states must maintain accurate records. In the lower court, Jon Husted, Ohio secretary of state, argued that voter names are not removed for failing to vote. They are removed for failing to respond to a written notice and then not voting in two Federal elections. Ohio assumes the person has moved or died and the name is purged in order to prevent voter fraud and to keep up to date voting records.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights filed briefs supporting Harmon and the A. Philip Randolph Institute. While Georgia and several other “Red States” filed briefs in support of Ohio. The case will be the second voting rights case the Supreme Court will hear during the term.
The A. Philip Randolph Institute has been “supporting voting rights for decades,” says Andre Washington, Ohio State president of APRI. APRI was founded by A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979), a Black labor leader and civil rights activist and Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), a Black labor strategist and civil rights organizer. The Court’s decision in Husted v. Harmon is expected by June.