Supreme Court appears sympathetic to Ohio voter purge effort

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2016, file photo, people stand on the steps of the Supreme Court at sunset in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick, file)
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Washington, D.C. -- Wednesday the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could shape who gets to vote in the 2018 November election. At issue is an Ohio law that purges certain voters from the system.

The Chief Justices of the US Supreme Court suggested Ohio's system may not violate federal law because it uses non-voting as a factor to take names off the voter rolls.

State Representative Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent, Ohio who is running for Secretary of State, says if the court sides with Ohio, it would set a dangerous precedent. "Voting shouldn't be a use it or lose it right," she said. She said under Secretary of State John Husted, Ohio has purged more than 2 million names from the voting rolls.

"Secretary of State Husted has purged more voters than any other secretary of state in the country and there's something wrong, I don't buy his rationale for this," she said.

Outside the Supreme Court building Wednesday, Husted defended Ohio's system, admitting he's being pulled in two different directions. "I've been sued on both sides of this equation; we have folks who say we need to be more aggressive, we have folks that say we should relax... we believe our process bridges that balance," he said.

During oral arguments, Justice Samuel Alito suggested several times that Ohio was acting within the law even though it might not always produce an "ideal system."

Justice Elana Kagan said Ohio's process "explicitly" relies on non-voting, which is against federal law. By law, voters can be purged only if they ask, move, are convicted of a felony, become mentally incapacitated or die.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned whether sending an address notification is a "reasonable" way of determining that someone has moved. She also asked if the process might help to disenfranchise voters.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the court's swing vote, said a disputed federal law gives states power to "protect" their voter rolls.

The court is expected to have a decision by early summer.

The court has a 5-4 conservative majority.

Ohio is one of seven states, along with Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, that erase infrequent voters from registration lists, according to the plaintiffs. They called Ohio’s policy the most aggressive.