The Supreme Court, taking on another significant controversy over voting rights, agreed on Tuesday to clarify the power of states to take voters off the registration rolls if they skip going to the polls in several elections. The new case from Ohio will come up for review in the court’s term starting next fall. At issue is an appeal by state officials seeking to defend their view that federal voter registration laws allow the states to adopt limited versions of a “use-it-or-lose-it” condition on keeping a current voter registration. The appeal has the support of 15 other states, but has drawn opposition from civil rights groups who claim that “voter purge” laws are suppressing the right to vote of many thousands of citizens.
A federal law passed in 1993 sought to compel states to update their voter rolls – at least for federal elections, but at the same time tried to make state registration laws work to serve that goal without purging people unfairly from the rolls. That is the National Voter Registration Act.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in a divided decision by a three-judge, ruled that Ohio’s registration rolls-updating process depends too heavily upon voters’ failure to go to the polls regularly.
The Ohio law results in removal of a voter from a registration roll if that individual has not voted or updated their registration (for example, because they may have moved) over a six-year span.