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Supreme Court decides case on purging voter registration rolls

Last Updated Jun 11, 2018 10:38 AM EDT

The Supreme Court is allowing Ohio to clean up its voting rolls by targeting people who haven't cast ballots in a while.

The justices are rejecting, by a 5-4 vote Monday, arguments that the practice violates a federal law intended to increase the ranks of registered voters. A handful of other states also use voters' inactivity to trigger a process that could lead to their removal from the voting rolls.

Read the opinion here:

Justice Samuel Alito says that Ohio is complying with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. He is joined by his four conservative colleagues.

The four liberal justices dissented.

Partisan fights over ballot access are being fought across the country. Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to suppress votes from minorities and poorer people who tend to vote for Democrats. Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud.

The lawsuit was filed against Ohio's secretary of state over the practice of flagging registered voters after they've missed one federal general election. They get a mailed notification asking them to confirm their eligibility. If they don't respond and don't vote in the next two general elections, they are targeted for eventual removal from registration rolls, even if they haven't moved and remain eligible. 

If they do confirm they're eligible to vote, or if they show up to vote over the next four years, voters remain registered. If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters.

The state said it only uses the disputed process after first comparing its voter lists with a U.S. postal service list of people who have reported a change of address. But not everyone who moves notifies the post office, the state said. 

In oral arguments Jan. 10, an attorney for civil rights groups said Americans not only have the right to vote, they have the right not to without worry about losing their registration. Attorneys for Ohio and the United States — President Trump's administration reversed the position by former President Barack Obama by siding with Ohio — contended they are only trying to ensure the integrity of voting rolls. Mr. Trump has elevated the issue of voting fraud during his presidency. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has said repeatedly that the state wants to "make it easy to vote and hard to cheat."