Ohio is set to cancel hundreds of thousands of voter registrations on Friday, even though the list of voters it is using was found to have mistakes.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) published a list of 235,000 voters at risk of losing their registrations in August but soon discovered there were errors and corrected them. The following month, in August, voting rights groups said they identified an additional 4,000 people who were incorrectly added to the list. The Columbus Dispatch also reported more than 1,600 people who were erroneously added because of a technical error.
Since early August, voting rights groups have been combing through LaRose’s list in a mad dash to urge voters to check their registrations. Part of that effort includes a plan to text many people on the list to check their voter records. Voting rights advocates say LaRose should pause the removals to give people more time to check the list.
“There are new questions, it seems like every week, about what’s going on with this list, and various inaccuracies with the list,” said Mike Brickner, the Ohio state director of All Voting is Local, one of the groups working on contacting voters. “If we’re going to purge people, we better make sure that it be accurate and fair. As of right now, with new questions arising just about every day, many people in the state just don’t have a lot of confidence that this is a correct list.”
“There are new questions, it seems like every week, about what’s going on with this list, and various inaccuracies with the list.”
The fight in Ohio underscores how mass voter removals ― sometimes called voter purges ― are now a major frontier in battles over voter suppression in the United States. At least 17 million people have had their voter registrations canceled since the 2016 election, according to one study by the Brennan Center for Justice (it’s unclear how many of those cancellations were legitimate). Ohio has already canceled 265,000 voter registrations this year.
Voting rights groups say these purges are discriminatory, inaccurate and jeopardize the registrations of eligible voters. So far, 11,872 people on LaRose’s list have updated their registrations so they aren’t canceled.
In Ohio, the list of voters set for purging is made up of people the state suspects have moved. Some on the list did indeed submit a change of address form to the United States Postal Service, but others did not. The list includes people who didn’t respond to an address confirmation mailing and people who haven’t voted, signed a petition or engaged in any other political activity for six consecutive years.
Voting rights groups are concerned that this process for removing people from the voter rolls, called the “supplemental process” in Ohio, is putting eligible voters at risk of having their voter registrations canceled.
The Ohio Democratic Party cited the errors last week in a lawsuit asking a federal judge to halt the scheduled purge. U.S. District Judge James Graham declined that request Tuesday afternoon. Graham noted in his ruling that LaRose was ensuring eligible voters weren’t getting removed from the rolls when he discovered errors on his list.
LaRose’s office defended its handling of the removals. In a court filing earlier this week, lawyers representing his office noted that errors had been fixed. The lawyers also said LaRose was taking additional steps to contact voters, including by making the cancellation list public and sending an additional “last chance” mailing to people on the list.
“We’re proud of providing unprecedented levels of transparency into this process, but we won’t ignore the law,” Maggie Sheehan, a LaRose spokesperson, said in a statement. “When we rolled out the Registration Reset list in July, we partnered with the NAACP, the Ohio Republican Party, the Urban League, church organizations, and labor unions who asked to be a part of this process, and they’ve been a big help. Predictably the Ohio Democratic Party stood on the sidelines.”
“As we prepare to finalize this process, we’re confident that there has never been a more intensive review of Ohio’s voting rolls, and we’re satisfied that the proper safeguards are in place to ensure any eligible voter will have the opportunity to have their voice heard,” she added.
Federal law requires states to have a general, nondiscriminatory program to remove ineligible voters from their rolls. The law also states that registrants can’t be removed “solely” because they haven’t voted.
LaRose says the removals comply both with that federal law and the Ohio statute that requires the supplemental process. In a 5-4 ruling last year, the United States Supreme Court said Ohio’s supplemental process was legal. LaRose reached a settlement last week with the voting rights groups that brought the case to the Supreme Court. The agreement will allow anyone who was purged using the supplemental process since 2011 to cast a provisional ballot if they show up at the polls through 2022.
Any Ohioan erroneously removed from the rolls can register to vote until Oct. 7, 2019, and be able to cast a regular ballot in this year’s general election.
Ohioans can check to see if they are at risk of having their registration canceled here.