In the deluge of news during the 2018 election cycle, many might have missed the case of Larry Harmon, a Navy veteran, who had entered his local polling place in 2015 because he wanted to vote on a marijuana legalization ballot initiative to find that he was not on the voter rolls. He had been unimpressed by the candidates during the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections and had sat out those elections, not realizing that doing so would cost him ability to cast a ballot in 2015. Mr. Harmon’s case made it to the Supreme Court last year, which should put all voters on notice — that their right to vote requires an extra measure of protection. As we recover briefly from the hangover of the 2018 election cycle only to quickly enter the soon-to-be crowded field of the 2020 cycle, our attention will naturally turn to swing states. Mr. Harmon was from one of the most critical swing states — Ohio — and as a result of his case, voters all over the country need to become more vigilant. For people of color, the ability to vote may be under special threat.
Mr. Harmon’s case — known as Husted vs. A. Philip Randolph Institute — centered on a practice that has become the rage for some state lawmakers and secretary of state offices around the country: voter purging. According to the Brennan Center for Justice’s report on voter purges, “purges, if done properly, are an important way to ensure that voter rolls are dependable, accurate, and up-to-date.”
Ohio, however, moves more quickly than other states to purge its voter rolls. Some voters can be purged based on failure to vote in just one federal election cycle, according to a brief filed by the Brennan Center and the League of Women Voters.
When done properly, experts show that well-executed “purges can remove duplicate names, and people who have moved, died, or are otherwise ineligible.”
The problem was that Larry Harmon hadn’t moved, his name wasn’t duplicated, and he wasn’t serving a prison sentence. He just had not voted in the past few elections.