Nearly two million Ohio voters — a full third of the swing state’s electorate — mailed in their ballots in 2012. This year, many who wish to do so may be denied that choice.
The state has been aggressively purging voters who have skipped three or more federal elections, as well as those who have moved and failed to update their address. Those purged have been disproportionately low-income, African-American, Democratic voters who live in inner-city Cleveland and Cincinnati.
In addition to the 200,000 registered voters already purged, more than a million still-eligible Ohioans who have skipped just one federal election have been placed on an inactive list. When the Secretary of State mailed out absentee ballot applications to every single registered voter in the state this week, one in seven Ohio voters did not receive one because they were on this list.
Mike Brickner with the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, who sued the state claiming the voter purge is unconstitutional, told ThinkProgress that denying inactive voters ballot applications is “nonsensical.”
“You’re making it harder for the very voters most likely to be disenfranchised to get active in the system again,” he said. “We’re not sending them the very tool that could actually allow them to vote and get off the inactive list.”
Brickner emphasized that voters who did not receive an application can still print one off the state’s website or pick one up at the Board of Elections, but these steps can be burdensome for working class voters with little access to transportation and computers.
“You’re making it harder for the very voters most likely to be disenfranchised to get active in the system again.”
As Ohioans wait for a ruling that could come any day now on the constitutionality of the purge, an investigation by the Akron Beacon Journal found that many on the purge or inactive lists may have been placed there in error. Tens of thousands of voters in a single county were placed on the inactive list and denied a ballot application, and the newspaper found that several had neither moved or skipped an election.
“No list is perfect,” Brickner said. “Inevitably some people fall through the cracks. But even if the list is correct, someone who missed one or two elections should get the same benefits as any other voter. They deserve the same opportunities as anyone else to cast their ballots.”
Inactive voters who do not receive an absentee ballot application will have even fewer opportunities to become active again, following a Supreme Court ruling Tuesday morning that backed Ohio’s decision to cut a full week of early voting. That week, known as “Golden Week,” was the only opportunity for Ohio voters to register and cast a ballot in a single visit to the polls.
Ohio implemented both Golden Week and no-fault absentee voting following the disastrous 2004 election in which Ohioans waited up to nine hours to vote. Now, both these tools are now being rolled back, and Brickner sees a partisan motive.
“We’ve seen the Republican legislature attempt to cut those opportunities because of political expediency,” he said. “They don’t want those voters who probably won’t vote for them to have those tools. It’s a real shame. They are trying to manipulate the system to achieve a certain result and the voter is always the one that suffers.”