In switch, Justice Department backs OH voter purge

As Justin Levitt, a constitutional law professor at Loyola Law School and voting rights expert, noted, it's extremely unusual for the DOJ to switch positions in a case after already weighing in at the appellate level.

The U.S. Department of Justice has reversed an Obama-era decision that attempted to curtail the OH government's efforts to cleanup voting rolls.

The supplemental process was struck down in September 2016 by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled that the OH process violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 by removing voters from the rolls simply because they have not voted. But Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), a conservative who has helped to spread the myth of voter fraud, appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which decided at the end of May to take up the case next term.

The case before the Supreme Court next term was filed by OH resident Larry Harmon who found out when he tried to vote in a local election in 2015 that he was no longer registered.

Justin Levitt, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's civil rights division who worked on the OH case during the Obama administration, wrote a blog on Monday, calling the reversal from the Justice Department unusual.

The case, Husted vs Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, focuses on the state's supplemental process, which cancels voter registrations even if the voter in question has not moved and is still eligible to vote. Those who don't respond and then don't vote in the next four years are kicked off the rolls.

According to the Times, the division "has been at the center of culture-war fighting in recent decades when Republican and Democratic administrations take over from each other".

John Husted, the OH secretary of state who's running for governor, says he welcomes support from the Justice Department.

Brater noted a potential connection between the June 28 DOJ letter and its recent reversal in the OH case, which he called two major actions that involve the same issue - voter-list maintenance and voter purges.

"This is another example of the Department potentially using its power to, rather than protect voters, to make it more hard for them to vote by putting pressure on states to purge their voter rolls", Brater said.

Many states wait for an indication that a voter may have moved before turning to the NVRA process, but states such as OH send a notice "to voters who lack voter activity over two years, and removes individuals from the rolls if they both fail to respond to the notice and fail to engage in voter activity for four more years".

"The law hasn't changed since the Department accurately told the Court that Ohio's voter purge was unlawful". The suit said that thousands of voters have been illegally removed from voter rolls, and that the rule disproportionately impacts minorities and poor people. The facts haven't changed.

However, criticisms of the Trump administration's Justice Department aren't limited to this recent shift in policy, which follows a number of other voter-related measures that have been criticized as attacks on voting rights.

In the Husted case, Adams said in a Wednesday statement, those in opposition "are keeping voter rolls filled with dead and ineligible voters". "Only the leadership of the Department has changed", said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The ACLU called the Justice Department's decision disappointing, saying the agency has consistently rejected the notion of purging people from rolls just for voting infrequently.

"I remain confident that once the justices review this case they will rule to uphold the decades-old process that both Republicans and Democrats have used in OH to maintain our voter rolls as consistent with federal law", Husted said.

  • Rogelio Becker