purge

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a narrow majority to allow Ohio to purge millions of registered voters from the state’s rolls for simply not voting frequently enough.

According to NPR, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) has made it a policy to purge the state’s voter rolls of anyone who has not voted in the last two consecutive elections. The lead plaintiff, Larry Harmon, recalled how he wasn’t a typical voter in midterm elections, and didn’t vote in the 2012 election because neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama excited him. In 2016, Harmon learned that he had been removed from the voter rolls.

The conservative majority on the Supreme Court made its 5-4 decision in the Husted v. Philip Randolph Institute case based on the fact that many Americans are registered simultaneously in multiple states.

“It has been estimated that 24 million voter registrations in the United States—about one in eight—are either invalid or significantly inaccurate,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the majority opinion. “And about 2.75 million people are said to be registered to vote in more than one State.”

However, the majority leaves out the fact that when people relocate, they often don’t call their former county of residence and remove themselves from the voter rolls, and that it’s very rare that someone registered to vote in multiple states actually votes more than once in an election. Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt conducted an investigation into more than 1 billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014 and found only 31 credible incidents of people seemingly voting fraudulently

However, in a column for The Washington Post, Levitt added that many of those 31 incidents may have simply been clerical or computer errors, and only a portion of those were actually prosecuted by law enforcement:

Some of these 31 incidents have been thoroughly investigated (including some prosecutions). But many have not. Based on how other claims have turned out, I’d bet that some of the 31 will end up debunked: a problem with matching people from one big computer list to another, or a data entry error, or confusion between two different people with the same name, or someone signing in on the wrong line of a pollbook.

As voting rights expert Ari Berman has pointed out, any state that chooses to purge voter rolls will impact affect people of color disproportionately, as policies like mandatory photo ID disproportionately target African American and Latinx communities and can prevent them from voting in consecutive elections:

Members of President Trump’s inner circle registered to vote in multiple states include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, presidential adviser Jared Kushner, First Daughter Tiffany Trump and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

 

Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.

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