SCOTUS Decision on Ohio Voter List Maintenance

Justice Thomas Adopts Constitutional Reasoning in PILF Brief

supreme Court

Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) President J. Christian Adams praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today regarding Ohio’s voter list maintenance policies under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) (Husted v. A. Phillip Randolph Institute 16-980).

“Today’s ruling empowers local officials and concerned parties to utilize the NVRA to ensure the most accurate and reliable voter rolls possible. The days of trying to hamstring maintenance responsibilities in the absence of federal guidance are over.

“This ruling underscores Congress’ intent to hold voter list maintenance mandates and registration opportunities with equal importance. Further, the Court rightfully challenged notions that officials were handcuffed to only taking maintenance action in the event of voter death or relocation. States and locales are charged today to take action utilizing modern tools and best practices to best serve resident citizens.”

In Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion, the constitutional arguments argued on behalf of ACRU are adopted:

Respondents’ reading of the NVRA would seriously interfere with the State’s constitutional authority to set and enforce voter qualifications.

The opinion also provides support for other tools being used to clean voter rolls (“So long as the trigger for sending notices is ‘uniform, nondiscriminatory, and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act’.”).

The Court was clearly unconvinced by arguments submitted from former Justice Department luminaries such as former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, AAG Thomas E. Perez, AAG Deval Patrick, DAAG-CR Loretta King, DAAG-CR Pamela S. Karlan, DAAG-CR Julie A. Fernandes, DAAG-CR Samuel R. Bagenstos, and others. The collective’s claims that the NVRA prohibited Ohio’s procedure (especially on the “trigger” mechanism of non-voting) and arguments regarding constitutional avoidance were squarely confronted by today’s ruling. The Court concluded that Ohio’s list maintenance program follows federal law “to the letter.” As Justice Thomas explained in concurrence, the ruling was necessary to honor the States’ constitutional authority to determine who is qualified to vote in Ohio’s elections.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation previously filed an amicus brief on behalf of the American Civil Rights Union in support of Ohio’s policy for removing ineligible and outdated voters. Below is a summary of observations made in support of Ohio’s voter list maintenance policies.

The U.S. Constitution grants Ohio the power to determine which ineligible voters are subject to cancellation. Limited Congressional actions and court precedent find that regulatory authority over federal elections remains exclusively with the states.

Ohio’s ‘supplemental’ voter list maintenance process is in keeping with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002—finding otherwise violates basic principles of Federalism. Regardless of the standard used to rule, the appellate court is currently throttling Ohio’s maintenance procedures based on restrictions not found in the law. A state’s duty to set qualifications for voting is matched with the expectation that they are enforced. Further, Congress has strictly barred states from onlyusing inactivity as a justification for voter removal. The Sixth Circuit incorrectly carries that further, blocking Ohio from its combined approach of considering inactivity and responsiveness to official inquiry.

Ohio does not remove voters simply for failure to vote—which otherwise would be violation of the NVRA and HAVA. The supplemental procedure requires that a voter failing to cast ballots for two consecutive years, does not respond to a confirmation notice within the allotted time, and continues to not vote for an additional four consecutive years be removed. Inactivity alone does not trigger an automatic cancellation.