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Supreme Court Upholds Ohio's Use-It-Or-Lose-It Voting Law


The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Ohio's practice of removing infrequent voters from the rolls. As Nick Castele from member station WCPN Ideastream reports, Democrats are worried this decision is going to deter their voters nationally.

NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: Many people move and don't update their voter registrations. One way Ohio tries to check up on them is to send postcards to people who haven't voted for two years. If voters don't respond and don't vote for four more years, Ohio purges them from the rolls. The Supreme Court held 5 to 4 that this is legal under federal law. The state's Democratic Party said the decision will make it, quote, "harder for American citizens to vote."

KATHLEEN CLYDE: It disproportionately affects minority voters, low-income voters, disabled voters and veteran voters.

CASTELE: State Representative Kathleen Clyde is the Democratic nominee for secretary of state. The current secretary of state, Republican Jon Husted, says he's held off from purging names from the rolls while the court case proceeded. He wasn't available for an interview, and his office didn't have a number at the ready for how many people could be affected. But Clyde says her research shows it's about 589,000 people. She says the state should not remove those names from the rolls yet because the November election is just months away.

CLYDE: And the basic unfairness of doing that so close to an election where these voters may want to participate.

CASTELE: It's not certain whether all those voters are still eligible or if they in fact have moved away. In 2016, the state counted 7,500 provisional ballots from voters who would otherwise have been purged. In a statement, Husted called the decision, quote, "a victory for election integrity." Blaine Kelly is a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party.

BLAINE KELLY: This is a policy that Ohio has had for many years under both Republicans and Democrats. It does work for us here in the state of Ohio.

CASTELE: Already election officials around the country are responding to the decision. A similar lawsuit against the state of Georgia was put on hold while Ohio's case was decided. That state's secretary of state cheered the Supreme Court's ruling. Doug Chapin directs the election administration program at the University of Minnesota.

DOUG CHAPIN: I would not be surprised to see legislators in some states using this case as a reason to suggest changes to laws.

CASTELE: He says it remains to be seen whether any such laws go into effect.

CHAPIN: At least every election official and every legislator across the country now knows that if you want to use non-voting as a trigger to start list maintenance on voters, that this case says that that's OK.

CASTELE: Now that the two-year court fight is over, Husted says Ohio's policy can serve as a model for the rest of the states to use. For NPR News, I'm Nick Castele in Cleveland.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "ANTHEM FOR THE EARNEST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.