Justice Department Reverses Stance on Ohio Voter-Purge Process

Sessions' DOJ Switches Sides In Voting Rights Case To Back Ohio Voter Purge

Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law called the OH purges "a critical voting rights case" and said the department's reversal is "the latest example of an agency whose leadership has lost its moral compass".

The U.S. Justice Department has switched its position in a pending Supreme Court case considering the legality of a purge of inactive OH voters.

JOHNSON: Under the National Voter Registration Act also known as the Motor Voter law, states are supposed to give notice before they remove someone from the list and then wait for two consecutive federal elections to see if a voter turns up.

The Supreme Court granted cert in May.

Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former DOJ attorney, wrote in a blog post that "it's quite rare for the DOJ to change course after a filing a brief in the court of appeals". The state appealed, and the Supreme Court agreed in May to hear the case. When the government did not receive a response, or individuals did not vote in the next four years, the voters could be removed from the state's voter rolls. This brief, unlike the prior one, was not signed by career attorneys in the civil rights division.

In 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Demos filed a lawsuit on behalf of Larry Harmon, 60, an OH resident who was purged from the voter rolls after he decided not to vote in two elections.

To the contrary, groups from the ACLU to the League of Women Voters say the Husted case sets off alarms because it's more about potentially stopping people from exercising their legal right to vote than stopping wrongdoers.




As a result, the Justice Department said, "Registrants who are removed in part because they failed to respond to an addressverification notice are not removed exclusively for nonvoting".

While the Motor Voter Act prohibits the removal of voters from the rolls "by reason of the person's failure to vote", acting US Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall argued in the amicus brief that this should be interpreted as meaning removal from the rolls only by reason of failure to vote.Ohio, Wall argued, also tries to verify addresses, so failure to vote isn't the only reason voters would be kicked off.

Democrats and liberal groups swiftly condemned the Trump administration's decision to back the state policy.

"This case is about maintaining the integrity of our elections, something that will be harder to do if elections officials are not able to properly maintain the voter rolls", Husted said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. The Justice Department under President Barack Obama said Ohio's method was prohibited. That means they have to register again in order to cast a ballot.

"The law hasn't changed since the department accurately told the court that Ohio's voter purge was unlawful", said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "Only the leadership of the Department has changed".

Levitt said that not voting and not responding to one piece of mail are not enough to determine that someone is ineligible to vote - and that the procedure affects "less active" voters, who tend to be nonwhite, young and poor.

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