The Akron Beacon Journal
A crucial part of the federal “motor voter” law of 1993 aimed at cleaning up registration rolls that were badly out of date, causing confusion, not to mention long lines, on Election Day. The question raised by the latest lawsuit over voting in Ohio highlights a crucial question: Has the state gone too far by purging inactive voters who fail to confirm their valid registration?
In the federal lawsuit, Demos, a New York-based voter advocacy group, is challenging Jon Husted, the secretary of state. During the past five years, while Husted has been in office, almost 2 million names have been purged from the registration rolls.
Following the same practice as previous secretaries of state, a “supplemental process,” Husted mails notifications to voters who have filled out a change of address form, reminding: You have moved and need to update your registration. He also notifies those who have not voted in a two-year period. Failure to confirm — or to register, vote or sign a petition — over the span of two federal elections means removal from the rolls. There is no formal voter education campaign on this process.
The Demos lawsuit targets solely the issue of inactive voters. The matter is especially important this year because of the potential disenfranchisement of those who missed a single presidential election in 2012. They could cast a provisional ballot this year, but it would be tossed out once elections officials failed to find a valid registration, even in cases where a voter never moved.
Federal data covering 2012 to 2014 — when voters still were being purged under the directives of Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat and Husted’s predecessor in the office — show a significant number of purges due to the failure of inactive voters to respond to a request to confirm their registration.
An attorney for Demos cited Cuyahoga County: Of 50,000 voters purged, four-fifths, or twice the state average, were removed though they were registered but simply inactive.
Keeping lines at polling places manageable and reducing provisional ballots, cast when questions about registration arise, are worthy goals. Each year, some 60,000 voters update their registration due to the notification process. Otherwise, they would be required to cast provisional ballots.
Still, these objectives must be balanced against the realities of voting in America, where roughly half of the voting-age population is registered and turnout varies. Pushing back the time frame for targeting inactive voters risks other problems. Going forward, Ohio would be better off focusing on removing from the rolls those voters who die, move or are convicted of a felony. A registered yet inactive voter should not be dropped from the list.