Civil Rights Panel Warns That New DOJ Stance Opens Door To Voter Disenfranchisement

The reversal in an Ohio case could suppress low-income and minority votes, the commission says.
A voter registers in Alliance, Ohio, on Nov. 8, 2016. Ohio's process for purging voters from the rolls if they don't vote for
A voter registers in Alliance, Ohio, on Nov. 8, 2016. Ohio's process for purging voters from the rolls if they don't vote for several years is being challenged in a case before the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights expressed “serious concern” Friday with a recent Department of Justice reversal in a major case before the Supreme Court that challenges the way Ohio removes voters from its rolls.

In Ohio, officials send voters who haven’t voted in two years a confirmation notice. If they don’t respond, they’re purged from the rolls if they fail to vote for an additional four years. Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice supported plaintiffs who claimed that Ohio’s process violated a 1993 federal law against purging voters because they don’t vote. But Justice Department lawyers recently filed a brief reversing that position and saying the process in Ohio is legal. Such a reversal, especially because DOJ had supported the plaintiffs in lower courts, is unusual.

A majority of the Commission on Civil Rights members voted Friday to express “serious concern” with the Justice Department’s new position. The bipartisan commission, created in 1957, is charged with investigating and making recommendations on civil rights issues.

“This stance opens the door to more aggressive and inaccurate purging of voter rolls, which can lead to widespread voter disenfranchisement and suppression of low income communities and communities of color,” the commission said in a statement.

The Justice Department’s reversal in the Ohio case marked the second time the Trump administration has reversed course on a major voting rights case. The Trump administration also abandoned support for a challenge of Texas’ voter ID law.

Catherine Lhamon, chair of the commission, said that it would continue to monitor the way the Department of Justice enforces civil rights laws.

“The right to vote is fundamental in our American democracy. The Commission will continue to uphold its 60-year mandate to protect that right and remains vigilant in ensuring the Department of Justice fulfills its own mandate of enforcing federal civil rights statutes,” she said in a statement.




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