Illegally Purged Ohio Voters to be Allowed to Vote

Release Date: 
October 19, 2016

On Wednesday, a federal court ordered Ohio Secretary of State John Husted to allow the many thousands of infrequent voters the state has purged from the voter rolls over the last several years to vote in this year’s Presidential Election. The order protects the voting rights of Ohioans whose voter registrations were cancelled under a controversial program that was recently declared illegal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Earlier this year, the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), and Ohio voter Larry Harmon, represented by Demos and the ACLU of Ohio, brought a legal challenge to Ohio’s purge of voters under that program, known as the Supplemental Process, which cancelled the registrations of voters who failed to vote for a period of six years—even voters who remained eligible to vote.

“The Supplemental Process has disproportionately removed voters of color from the registration rolls,” said Andre Washington, president of APRI. “The right to vote—a right Americans have fought and died for—simply cannot be treated as a use-it-or-lose-it right.” 

Last month, the Sixth Circuit overturned a lower court ruling and declared that Ohio’s Supplemental Process violated a federal law known as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), which prohibits states from cancelling a voter’s registration merely for failing to vote for a period of time.

“Today’s order is a monumental victory for Ohio voters,” said Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos. “Even after the Sixth Circuit ruled that Ohio had violated federal law in removing infrequent voters from the rolls, Secretary Husted would have denied thousands of eligible Ohioans the right to vote. We are gratified that the court recognized that broader relief was required to protect the rights of Ohio voters. Now those voters will be able to cast a ballot and have it counted in the upcoming election.” 

The appeals court’s decision, issued on September 23, 2016, sent the case back to the lower court to craft a remedy that would halt the Supplemental Process and prevent voters who have been purged from being denied their right to vote. On Wednesday the District Court issued an order that requires the state to allow infrequent voters to cast their ballots this November.

“Just last year, Ohio cancelled the voter registrations of hundreds of thousands of infrequent voters, and we anticipate many of them will come to the polls in November with no idea they have been purged. Yesterday’s order ensures these Ohio voters will be able to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” said Freda Levenson, legal director at the ACLU of Ohio. “We are encouraging voters across the State of Ohio to take the time to cast a provisional ballot if they find that their names are not on the registration rolls when they turn up to vote.”

Under the Court’s order, the State must:

  • Update websites maintained by the Ohio Secretary of State and county boards of elections inform voters who may have been purged under the Supplemental Process that they may be able to vote by provisional ballot and have their ballots counted this November;
  • Provide online and telephonic tools for purged voters to find out the polling location and precinct where they should go vote;
  • Inform purged voters who apply to vote-by-mail that they may cast a provisional ballot at their early voting site or on Election Day; and
  • Treat any provisional ballot cast in-person by a purged voter who has not moved or who has moved within the same county the same as if the voter were still registered.

“The Court’s action is a huge win for housing insecure, homeless, and other traditionally marginalized voters,” said Brian Davis, Executive Director at NEOCH. “Because housing-insecure and homeless voters often face obstacles getting to the polls, these voters are more likely to have been targeted by the Supplemental Process, removed from Ohio’s registration rolls, and denied their right to vote. The order will help ensure that the voices of these often under-represented voters are heard this November.”

The Court’s order applies only to the 2016 Presidential Election. The Court instructed the parties to submit a schedule for additional proceedings on a permanent resolution of the lawsuit after the election.