The Justice Department has reversed itself in a high-profile voting case in Ohio to side with the state and allow the purging of voters from the rolls for not answering election mail and not voting in recent elections. In a court filing Monday, Justice attorneys took the opposite position from the Obama administration in a case that involved the state’s removal of thousands of inactive voters from the Ohio voting rolls. Civil rights groups last year challenged Ohio’s process, arguing that such purges are prohibited under the National Voter Registration Act. The Justice Department under Obama filed an amicus brief siding with the groups, and the Supreme Court is set to hear the case in the next term. But in an unusual turn, the department filed a new amicus brief Monday arguing that the purges of voters are legal under federal law. This brief, unlike the prior one, was not signed by career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division.
The Ohio procedure allows the state to purge voters meeting certain criteria for being inactive. If a voter has not cast a ballot in two years, the person is sent a notice asking to confirm registration. If the voter does not respond and does not cast a ballot over the next four years, the person is removed from the rolls.
The Justice Department’s brief on Monday argued that Ohio is not removing voters only for their initial failure to vote.
“Registrants are sent a notice because of that initial failure, but they are not removed unless they fail to respond and fail to vote for the additional period,” the brief said.