Over the last five years, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State has purged about 2 million inactive voters from its rolls. Civil rights groups have sued the state, arguing the purge violates federal voting laws. As the 2016 election draws closer, a new Reuters analysis finds that far more Democrats than Republicans are being purged in the state’s most populous counties.
In Ohio’s major cities, including Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, voters have been removed from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods at about twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods. In some neighborhoods in Cincinnati with a high proportion of poor, African-American residents, as much as 10 percent of the voting population has been purged. Because Democratic voters have lower turnout rates for mid-term, off-year elections, they are at greater risk of being purged. Counties that backed President Obama in 2008 have had far more residents kicked off the rolls than counties that backed John McCain.
Under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, commonly know as the “motor voter law,” states can only remove voters from the rolls if they request the removal, die, or move out of state. The law also demands the list maintenance program be nondiscriminatory. The American Civil Liberties Union argued in their lawsuit against the purge that stripping voters from the rolls simply for not voting in the past few elections is illegal.
Ohio Secretary of State John Husted countered that if voting was a “really important thing” for an individual, he or she “probably would have done so within a six-year period.”
Husted has also argued that the majority of those purged are dead or have left Ohio. “Voter rolls with deceased voters and people who’ve moved out-of-state have long contributed to the problems of voter fraud, long lines and discarded ballots,” he said. Yet Husted has spent years trying to find examples of voter fraud in Ohio and has come up with almost nothing. Last year, his office admitted that the rate of potential illegal voting was .0002 percent.
Ohio is just one of a small handful of states that remove voters from the rolls if they miss a couple elections. The state is currently fighting several other lawsuits over its voting laws, and just appealed a federal ruling that found their cuts to early voting days unconstitutional. The state may also implement an unprecedented policy that requires voters to put up a cash bond of tens of thousands of dollars in order to keep the polls open later during an election day emergency.
Ohio is a key swing state that could decide the 2016 election. Past contests in the state have been so close that the hundreds of voters purged from the rolls could mean the difference between a Republican or a Democrat in the White House next year. Voters who discover they have been purged can re-register up to 30 days before the general election.