Only 41 percent of registered voters went to the polls in Ohio’s 2014 general elections; the following year, just 43 percent voted. In the face of these abysmal rates, state officials should be focused on engaging the electorate and improving participation. But Ohio instead treats a failure to vote over such a two-year period as sufficient reason to trigger the process of removing someone from the voter rolls entirely. And on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that doing so was perfectly legal. Registered voters in the state who have not cast a ballot over two years are — and will continue to be — sent a notice by the local election board to confirm their registration. If they do not respond to the notice, and if they do not engage the electoral process over the following four years, they are purged from the voter registration lists.
This process occasions the removal of thousands of voters — 40,000 in 2015 just in Cuyahoga County (Ohio’s largest, which includes the city of Cleveland) — many of whom are otherwise eligible to vote. (The Associated Press, for instance, recently profiled a man who returned from Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan to find out that he had been removed from the voter rolls.)
In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court vindicated the arguments of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who has argued that this practice serves to ensure a necessary housekeeping of voter rolls.