To the state of Ohio, it is nothing more than a housekeeping device to keep the voting rolls up to date. To opponents, it is a system that deprives legal voters the right to cast a ballot in a federal election. With oral arguments scheduled Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will have to decide whether Ohio has been too zealous in trying to keep its voter rolls up-to-date and make certain those rolls do not include people who have left the state or died. And while the dispute between Ohio and the American Civil Liberties Union probably does not rise to the level of a landmark case, if the justices strike down Ohio’s system — the decision is expected this spring — then more than a dozen other states will have to revise their election laws.
At stake is one small part of Ohio’s law: If a person skips voting in a federal election over a two-year period, that sets in motion a legal process that could eventually lead them to being removed from the voter rolls.
“This is a way that demonstrably kicks people off the voter rolls when the only thing they are guilty of is not having voted in a recent election,” said Richard Saphire, a professor emeritus of law at the University of Dayton who helped write the ACLU’s legal papers.
“And that’s not a reason to disqualify people from voting in the future.”