By Barry Eitel
SAN FRANCISCO (AA) – The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state of Ohio has the right to purge citizens from voter enrollment lists if they do not vote within a certain time frame.
The 5-4 decision paves the way for a form of voter suppression, civil rights groups say, and will likely help Republican candidates and hurt Democratic candidates in future elections.
Republican-controlled state governments have moved to make voting harder, critics of the Ohio law argue, which generally helps Republican candidates because Republican voters statistically vote more often than Democrat and minority voters.
Several states have similar laws, and critics worry the ruling will cause even more to pass legislation mirroring the Ohio law.
The law in question is a way to purge voters off Ohio’s voter rolls. The law says officials can remove the name of any voter who has not participated in an election for two years off voter rolls unless the voter fills out a form asserting that he or she wants to remain registered to vote.
Activists say the law amounted to a violation of federal election laws, although the Supreme Court disagreed.
"We have no authority to second-guess Congress or to decide whether Ohio's supplemental process is the ideal method for keeping its voting rolls up to date," wrote Justice Samuel Alito, who was charged with writing the majority opinion. "The only question before us is whether it violates federal law."
While supporters of the Ohio law say it keeps voter rolls accurate, critics like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) see something much more sinister.
“Voters should not be purged from the rolls simply because they have exercised their right not to vote,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “This ruling is a setback for voting rights, but it is not a green light to engage in wholesale purges of eligible voters without notice.”
The dissenting judges said that the Ohio law violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
“Congress enacted the NVRA against the backdrop of substantial efforts by states to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters, including programs that purged eligible voters from registration lists because they failed to vote in prior elections,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.