Voting Rights Advocates File Lawsuit to Counter Massive Purge of Ohio’s Voter Rolls

Release Date: 
April 6, 2016

Organizations Seek to End Ohio’s Practice of Removing Infrequent Voters from the Registration Rolls  

(COLUMBUS, OH)—Today, Demos and the ACLU of Ohio brought suit on behalf of the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. The organizations are demanding that Ohio stop illegally removing voters from its voter registration rolls in violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).  

“In 2015, Ohio conducted a massive purge across the state,” said Andre Washington, the President of the Ohio APRI chapter.  “In Cuyahoga County alone, approximately 40,000 individuals were unlawfully purged merely for choosing not to vote, and a disproportionate number came from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.”    

According to the lawsuit, Ohio is violating the NVRA by canceling the registrations of voters who do not vote in three successive federal elections or in the intervening local elections, a practice Ohio calls the “Supplemental Process.” The organizations allege that these voter purges have resulted in the widespread disenfranchisement of eligible Ohioans. 

“We have spoken to purged voters from around the state of Ohio who tried to vote in the November 2015 local election and were turned away,” said Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio. “The already widespread disenfranchisement that has resulted from this process is likely to be much worse in a Presidential Election year.” 

The complaint, which comes four months after APRI sent a letter to Secretary Husted, notifying him that the state was violating the NVRA, asserts that Ohio’s policy of purging voters from its rolls for failing to vote disproportionately affects already marginalized voters. 

“As we have seen time and time again, homeless voters and other marginalized voters have to fight to make their voices heard in the electoral process,” said Brian Davis, the Executive Director at NEOCH.  “NEOCH works hard to bring these voters into the electoral process, but unfortunately, the state of Ohio, with the Supplemental Process, has illegally shut many of them out again.”  

APRI and NEOCH are seeking an order from the court immediately halting the use of the Supplemental Process and restoring the unlawfully purged voters to the voter rolls.  

“Under the Supplemental Process, Ohio is removing eligible voters from its rolls for no reason other than their failure to vote,” said Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, which is representing the plaintiffs with the ACLU.  “This unlawful practice must stop, and it must stop now.  Without immediate court intervention, many Ohio voters will find themselves denied this fundamental right when they go to the polls in November.” 

In addition to the Supplemental Process, Ohio employs a separate roll-maintenance system that uses change-of-address data provided by the U.S. Postal Service to identify and remove voters who have moved. 

“The Supplemental Process flatly violates federal voting rights law and explains why Ohio purges so many more voter than other states,” said Daniel P. Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law*, who along with Professors Paul Moke and Richard Saphire, serves as a cooperative attorney for the ACLU of Ohio. “Ohio’s Supplemental Process is as unnecessary as it is illegal.  Ohio already uses Postal Service information to ensure its voter rolls are up-to-date.  There is no legal basis for purging eligible voters simply because they have not voted.”

 

*Institutional affiliation for the purpose of identification only