Larry Harmon, a 59-year-old software engineer and Navy vet, went the polls in 2015 in his hometown of Kent, Ohio, to vote on a state ballot initiative. But poll workers told him he was no longer registered and could not vote. “I felt embarrassed and stupid at the time,” Harmon told Reuters. “The more I think about it, the madder I am,” he said. Harmon voted for Barack Obama in 2008 but had not returned to vote until 2015. He later learned that he was purged from the rolls in Ohio for “infrequent voting” because he had not voted in a six-year period, even though he hadn’t moved or done anything to change his registration status. The same thing is now happening to tens of thousands of voters across the state. The fear is that voters who cast ballots in 2008 but have not participated since, particularly first-time voters for Obama, will show up in 2016 to find that they are no longer registered. Ohio has purged more voters over a 5-year period than any other state.
At least 144,000 voters in Ohio’s three largest counties, home to Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, were purged since the 2012 election, with voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods twice as likely to be removed as those in Republican-leaning ones, according to a Reuters analysis by Andy Sullivan and Grant Smith. That includes 40,000 voters purged in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, where the GOP convention is taking place this week. These cities are heavily Democratic, with large minority populations, and there’s a clear partisan and racial disparity to the state’s voter purge.
… Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted says more than 2 million voters have been purged since 2011. From 2011 to 2014, 846,000 were struck for infrequent voting and 480,000 for moving. “Of the 2 million purged, 1.2 million are questionable purges,” says State Representative Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent who has led opposition to the purge. “We shouldn’t be playing games with people’s voter registrations and fundamental right to vote. Instead we should be trying to get them to the polls.”
The purge works like this: If a voter misses an election, Ohio sends them a letter making sure their address is still current. If the voter doesn’t respond, Ohio puts them on an inactive list, and if the voter doesn’t vote in the next two elections they are removed from the rolls.