A sharply divided US Supreme Court on Monday approved the practice by the state of OH of purging infrequent voters from their registration lists - a move civil rights groups claim disproportionately affects minorities and the poor.
The justices rejected arguments that practices by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted violate a federal law meant to increase the ranks of registered voters.
Under federal laws enacted in 1993 and 2002, states can not remove voters from registration lists due to their failure to vote.
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Justice Sotomayor, who joined with the liberal justices in dissenting and also wrote a separate dissenting opinion, spoke to that past as well. "The right to vote is not "use it or lose it", Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters which has fought in favor of numerous voting rights cases, said in a statement.
The ruling could be a major victory for Republicans, who tend to benefit from lower voter turnout, and a stinging loss for Democrats, who do best in high-turnout elections.
Under Ohio rules, registered voters who fail to vote in a two-year period are targeted for eventual removal from registration rolls, even if they haven't moved and remain eligible. "In my view, Ohio's program does just that". The decision could mean that more states will adopt similar laws to trim their voter rolls, particularly when (as the majority observed today) roughly one in eight voter registrations is "either invalid or significantly inaccurate". Congress indicated that states can remove voters "who have not responded to a notice and who have not voted in 2 consecutive" federal elections, but it added that "no registrant may be removed exclusively by reason of a failure to vote". The state sends automatic notices to any registered voter who doesn't cast a vote during a two-year election cycle. The court's decision essentially endorses "the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against", Sotomayor wrote.
The challengers, represented by liberal advocacy group Demos along with the American Civil Liberties Union, sued Ohio Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted in 2016 to end the policy.
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OH is perennially a battleground state in presidential elections and has given its electoral votes to the eventual victor in 28 of the last 30 elections.
"Democracy suffers when laws make it harder for U.S. Citizens to vote". As part of the lawsuit, a judge past year ordered the state to count 7,515 ballots cast by people whose names had been removed from the voter rolls.
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would nominate Eric Murphy, the OH lawyer who argued the case on the state's behalf, to a seat on the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The case was Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute.
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