Justice Department Reverses Course In Major Ohio Voting Rights Case

Sessions' DOJ Switches Sides In Voting Rights Case To Back Ohio Voter Purge

The DOJ ultimately came to the conclusion that abstaining from voting is sufficient grounds for the state to send out a confirmation notice. If the voter does not respond and does not cast a ballot over the next four years, the person is removed from the rolls.

Under Ohio's policy, voters who do not cast a ballot for two years would be sent a notice to confirm their voter registration.

Ohio's procedure allows the state to purge voters who meet certain criteria for being inactive.

DOJ lawyers under the Trump administration determined the National Voter Registration Act does not prohibit rules such as those used in OH to remove thousands of inactive voters from the state's voting rolls, the Washington Times reported. Declining to vote did not provide such evidence, the DOJ argued.

But the A. Philip Randolph Institute, an African-American trade union group, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, and Larry Harmon, a man who was purged from the rolls, are the suing the state over the law.

The law says nothing about triggers, according to the brief, and only prohibits purging of voters for nonvoting - it does not prevent states from sending notices based on nonvoting.

"Respondents do not contend-and could not plausibly contend-that the supplemental process results in the removal of any registrant exclusively because of nonvoting", the brief continues. In February, shortly after Jeff Sessions became attorney general, the department dropped its position in a long-running case that argued Texas meant to discriminate against minorities when it passed a strict voter-ID law.

"This case is about maintaining the integrity of our elections, something that will be harder to do if elections officials are not be able to properly maintain the voter rolls", Husted said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who is also running for governor next year.

"Yesterday, the Department of Justice abandoned this principled position that it has held for decades through three presidencies", Wright said in a statement.

The ACLU called the Justice Department's decision disappointing, saying the agency has consistently rejected the notion of purging people from rolls just for voting infrequently.

"The question is what states are allowed to do in order to maintain their voter registration records - not what they are required to do", Ehrsam said.

But since Trump took office, the Justice Department has become more hostile to voting rights, and made the atypical move of switching positions in the case.

When the case was before the Sixth Circuit, the Obama administration's DOJ sided with the American Civil Liberties Union and other voting rights groups that filed the lawsuit on behalf of OH voters.

"I think that if the Department is going to be looking nationwide at the way states maintain their voter rolls, and also take positions that make it easier for states to purge voters who are eligible, that would be very concerning for voters and for voter rights", he said.

However, Ohio appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case, and the new DOJ-headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose history with regard to civil rights has raised concerns since President Donlad Trump nominated him-has now revised its guidance for the law.

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