NEW YORK, NY—Today, Demos and the ACLU of Ohio, on behalf of the civil rights-labor organization the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), sent a pre-litigation notice letter to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted demanding that the State stop illegally removing voters from its voter registration rolls. The letter makes clear that Ohio is violating federal law by using failure to vote as a reason to purge voters from the rolls.
“Ohio is very aggressive in removing voters from its voter registration rolls,” said Stuart Naifeh, Senior Counsel at Demos, a national public policy organization with a long history of voting rights work. “A citizen’s failure to vote in particular elections should not mean they lose the ability to vote later on.”
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), commonly known as “Motor Voter,” includes requirements that voters, once registered, must remain registered as long as they are eligible. The NVRA specifically prohibits states from removing voters for failing to vote. Under the state’s “Supplemental Process,” however, Ohio assumes that voters who have not voted in a two-year period have moved and essentially requires them to re-register to vote. This practice violates federal law.
“Ohio must ensure that its citizens are not unlawfully purged from the voter rolls merely for exercising their First Amendment right not to cast a ballot,” said Freda Levenson, Legal Director for the ACLU of Ohio. “Individuals may consciously choose not to vote for any number of reasons. By purging voters from the rolls for not casting a ballot—or making them jump through hoops to stay registered—Ohio is punishing them for expressing their First Amendment right.”
Voter-registration organizations in Ohio estimate that the State’s most recent purge in the summer of 2015 resulted in the removal of hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters, a large majority of these voters were removed for not voting in recent elections. Most of the voters purged this year last voted in 2008, a year with record turnout in the state.
“Just this year, Cuyahoga County conducted one of the largest purges we have seen to date,” said Andre Washington, President of the Ohio APRI chapter. “Over 51,000 individuals in the county were purged, and approximately 80 percent of them were purged based on their failure to vote.”
In today’s letter, the civic organizations offer to work cooperatively with the state but threaten litigation if Ohio does not stop cancelling voter registrations and reinstate all voters whose registrations were cancelled pursuant to the Supplemental Process.