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Don’t let partisan fights undermine voter rights

The Supreme Court upheld Ohio's process of purging

The Supreme Court upheld Ohio's process of purging rolls of inactive voters. Credit: The Washington Post

The Supreme Court decided an Ohio voting case on Monday that ordinarily would be ignored as a turgid parsing of two federal laws. But in the political wars to shape the nation’s future, it’s another battle.

In a 5-4 ruling along ideological lines, the justices upheld the Republican-controlled state’s process to purge its electoral rolls of inactive voters, the most aggressive in the nation. It’s a practice Democrats contend is motivated by a desire to disenfranchise minority, elderly and poor voters. The attorneys general of 15 states, all Republicans, filed briefs in support of Ohio’s actions. New York filed a brief against Ohio’s that was joined by 11 attorneys general who are Democrats. During the Obama administration, the Justice Department opposed the state, but it switched sides in the Trump administration.

In the case, Larry Harmon, a software engineer, wanted to vote against a 2015 Ohio ballot initiative to legalize marijuana, but found his name missing from the rolls. Harmon had last voted in 2008, but he missed two federal elections and did not contact the local board of elections in six years, so his name was purged. Harmon said he never got a notice. While a 1993 federal law prohibits the removal of voters solely because of a failure to vote in a federal election, a 2002 law requires states to remove those who failed to vote in two successive federal elections, but not if the only reason is failing to vote. It’s in this ambiguity that states have wide latitude to keep their voter rolls up to date.

Accurate rolls are ideal, but the zeal to purge voters based on the unfounded premise that there is rampant voter fraud is wrong. In this partisan fight, citizens are disenfranchised from their most basic of rights, casualties of the raging partisanship undermining belief in government.