Justice Department changes position, supports OH in voter purge case

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted Associated Press file

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati previous year blocked Ohio's policy, ruling that it ran afoul of the 1993 law. "By reversing course and choosing to stand with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and his practice of purging countless eligible Ohioans from the rosters, the DOJ has confirmed many peoples' worst fears that it will no longer work to protect and expand the right to vote, but instead undermine it".

However, Ohio appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case, and the new DOJ-headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose history with regard to civil rights has raised concerns since President Donlad Trump nominated him-has now revised its guidance for the law.

In 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Demos filed a lawsuit on behalf of Larry Harmon, 60, an OH resident who was purged from the voter rolls after he decided not to vote in two elections. If they do not respond and do not vote over the following four years, they are removed from the rolls.

Following that decision, a federal district court entered an injunction for the November 2016 presidential election that allowed more than 7,500 OH voters to cast a ballot.

DOJ lawyers under the Trump administration determined the National Voter Registration Act does not prohibit rules such as those used in OH to remove thousands of inactive voters from the state's voting rolls, the Washington Times reported. DOJ attorneys wrote in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court.

Democrats have accused Republicans of taking steps at the state level, including laws imposing new requirements on voters such as presenting certain types of government-issued identification, meant to suppress the vote of groups who generally favor Democratic candidates.

Husted welcomed the Justice Department's position.

But Jonathan Brater, who focuses on voting rights with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, called the agency's reversal "troubling" - particularly when coupled with its June 28 request to the 44 states covered by the NVRA for information on voter-roll maintenance. In addition a federal appeals court struck down a controversial Texas voter-ID law that had caused significant problems at the polls in 2016.

Voting-rights advocates challenged the provisions, arguing that by culling the lists the state ends up stripping out legal but infrequent voters who have every right to cast ballots.

"Our democracy is stronger when more people have access to the ballot box - not fewer", added the DNC.

The Ohio brief also signals the department's continued interest in voter purging procedures. Put differently, the DOJ thinks that states can purge voters without any real evidence that they've moved. "It is a change by the office that has the role in the courts of deciding what the law says on behalf of the federal government".

Kristen Clarke, the president of the liberal Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, condemned the new position as an effort to obstruct voting rights that could open the door to "wide-scale unlawful purging".

However, criticisms of the Trump administration's Justice Department aren't limited to this recent shift in policy, which follows a number of other voter-related measures that have been criticized as attacks on voting rights.

In opposition to the OH government, the DOJ under former President Barack Obama argued before a state can start the confirmation process to remove a voter, "it must have reliable evidence that the voter has moved", according to the Washington Times. The facts haven't changed. The Justice Department declined to comment.

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