Supreme Court Allows Ohio to Scrub the Voter Roll

Kamau Franklin, Attorney for ProGeorgia, says purging the voter roll is another tool in the pockets of conservatives, who want to get rid of people who will not be voting for them

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the state of Ohio to purge the voter registrations of citizens who have not voted in the last federal election, and who do not respond to a notice that is mailed to them. Now, the court decision was 5 to 4, with a majority along political lines, since the conservatives have a majority in the Supreme Court. This decision, therefore, was not a surprise. Now, Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, arguing that even though non-voting triggers the process of purging their registration, removal from the registry is not based on non-voting, and is therefore legal. Now, Justice Breyer dissented, arguing that sending a notice in the mail is not a reasonable method of determining whether someone has moved.

Now joining me to analyze the Supreme Court decision is Kamau Franklin. Kamau works for Pro Georgia, working against gerrymandering in the state. Thank you so much for joining us today, Kamau.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thank you for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. I know that this is the latest battle in the partisan war that is going on in terms of the states having more control over voting registration, and also the liberty to purge voters off their lists by various means, including, say, early voting elimination of same-day registration, and tough voter ID laws. Now, give us a sense of what this decision means, and what it will do to the politics of some of these states, who are really states with the, that have-, they’re considered swing states.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: I think for Ohio and for other states, particularly in the South, which we’re looking at the Ohio decision to decide whether or not they would enact similar laws as Ohio when it comes to purging voters from the voter roll. So in other words, easy ways to get rid of voters. I think this is a decision that they’re going to take and run with. I think there’s been over a dozen states so far that have said that based on this decision being upheld and Ohio being able to strike its voters on the rolls, that they, too, will move to strike voters easily from the voters in a way that Ohio has.

And as some studies have shown, I think Reuters recently did a study, most of the people who these kind of laws affect are Democratic voter leaning, liberals, minorities, progressive people. And that’s who the target of these, these laws are geared at. For instance, in Ohio the three largest counties, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, have had more people stricken from their voter rolls, which leans Democratic, again, or leans progressive, than any other counties in Ohio.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Kamau, give us this particular case that this decision was based on. What happened to this former veteran?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: What the plaintiff’s name in this case was Harmon, and he had not voted in the last presidential election because he felt he didn’t like any of his choices. So he sat it out, basically. Ohio sent a notice that he said he didn’t remember receiving. So when he went to vote for a ballot initiative in 2017, I believe he noticed that his name, his son’s name was on the roll, but his name was not on the roll.

And so he joined suit and said that he was illegally removed from the voter roll, and originally the Justice Department under Obama actually supported him being added to the voter rolls, this Ohio voter roll law should be stricken down. And the Justice Department argued for this law to be stricken down. And after Trump came into office, the Justice Department switched sides and decided to go with the state of Ohio and support this purging law that takes people off the voter rolls. So in this particular case, Harmon did not even know that he was stricken from the voters roll until he went to vote on an initiative. So he didn’t receive any other notice that said that you will be stricken, or you have been stricken. And it wasn’t until he tried to exercise his Constitutional right to vote. And in Ohio there’s no same-day registration. So he now has to go through a process of reregistering to vote, missing the important ballot initiative that he wanted to vote on, and being left out. And this is a possibility, again, for not just thousands, but potentially millions of voters in Ohio.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Kamau, we should note here that Ohio is considered to be, out of approximately ten swing states, Ohio is one of them, where presidential elections are ultimately decided. This makes the court’s decision particularly important, and perhaps the most important implications of this decision. So tell us about, of course, the impact this will have in terms of the elections, as well as what the long term effects might be of this sort of decision being adhered to by all the swing states.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yeah. I think for the swing states, I mean, this will have an impact not only on federal elections, but on state and local elections. And as you’ve noted, Ohio is a swing state, and these states are closely battled after by progressives and conservatives. And anything that cuts back on people’s rights to vote, that begins purging voters from the rolls, means that some forces in this case, particularly conservative forces who have a leg up that comes to governors races, when it comes to, obviously in presidential races. Senators, state representatives, federal representatives, in terms of Congress.

So I think this particular outcome will have a big effect in Ohio and swing states. And further, I think in states in the South which are now, which were, again, looking at this law as a possible model for them to emulate, as in some places like in Georgia, where folks have been talking about Georgia tending to be progressive, a new majority taking over in Georgia in terms of the progressives, women, LGBTQ community, folks of color. This, again, is an early warning sign that these states, these conservative states, will have another tool in their toolbelt to put restrictions on voting. So not only will we again, as you mentioned, have to deal with cutting back on early voting, elimination of same-day registration, of more voting ID restrictions, remember we also have a census coming up in 2020. And based on that new redistricting that’s going to happen, these kind of, these kind of laws have the effect of cutting back on people’s ability to easily go out and exercise their right to vote, which will only enable more conservatives, more right-wing people to hold on to and win office.

SHARMINI PERIES: Kamau, the major concern, I think, in this decision is the way in which it might favor one party over another, which the Democrats are, of course, screaming about. Why?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, I think because, traditionally speaking, states, even in these swing states and in other areas, Democrats still usually have a majority of folks who are registered as Democrats. And I think that these voter registries, these voter laws, particularly a purging law, are geared towards large counties and geared to affect voters who tend to vote Democrat. So I think what you’ll have here is that the peeling away of voter, people on the voter rolls will affect Democrats more. One particular example in Ohio is that 1.5 million notices were sent out telling people that they might get cut off the voter rolls. Of that number only 235000 were sent back that said hey, I didn’t move. Another 60000 sent back said hey, I did move. Which means 1.2 million people potentially now are at risk of being taken off the voter registration rolls because they didn’t respond at all. And again, in large counties this is going to affect majority Democratic voters, progressive voters.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Kamau, in light of the court’s decision, what ought to happen on a grassroots level to protect against partisan voting suppression?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: I think the, again, the only solutions are at the state level in this particular case. Because I think that in terms of governorships, in terms of statehouses, state senators, state legislators, folks are going to have to do more to get people who have progressive values and make sure that they vote against these kind of legislative initiatives that are done by Republicans or right-wing leaning politicians in order to preserve their places.

And again, you know, this is now another tool in a toolbox of right-wing forces to hold on to office longer than ever as they see the country becoming more people of color, as they see sort of a new majority emerging. These tools that limit voting, that limit access to the polls, are the things that they think will help them stay in power longer. So people are going to have to do more to come out and make sure that, one, that they are holding these forces accountable and voting them out of office. On a strictly individual level I think people are going to have to go down to their county offices and make sure that they’re still on the rolls and take that initiative, because right now the affirmative position is that if you do nothing you’ll be taken off the rolls, and you won’t know it until you go vote.

SHARMINI PERIES: And this will cause likely a huge lowering of the number of people that are eligible to vote, and therefore less people will be voting overall. Do we know what those numbers might be?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s way too early to know exactly what the numbers are, but I think based on this decision the actual numbers of people purged in 2016 were 7600 folks off of Ohio. And again, based on the numbers that I read out earlier, about 1.5 million notices sent out which, still all of them have not been acted on. This can lead to a dramatic decrease in people who are voting in any election, both statewide and federal.

So unless there are other states or other laws that’s going to protect people’s rights to vote, folks are going to have to, again, take the affirmative action of finding out if they’re still on the voter rolls. If they are not they’re going to have to fill out voter registration forms anew. And I think this is a major case which is going to have major consequences, again, particularly in swing vote, swing states and particularly in southern states which are now worried that a new majority of the population is going to be folks of color, and maybe progressive people who won’t vote in the same conservative folks that were there before.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And I know you said that Judge Alito’s figure of being something like 24 million voter registrations are estimated to be invalid or significantly inaccurate. However, are there ways, if, let’s say part of what he’s saying is true, other ways to clean up the voter registration lists in the state without having to render this kind of a decision or to rely on this kind of a decision?

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yeah. I think if states are interested they can always make it easier for people that are registered and make it easier to check and see if people are still living in the places that they previously registered registered under. And some of those ways are through state taxes and tax forms. Another way is through DMV, folks who go renew their licenses every year. Car registration. So there are multiple ways that the state collects information on where people are living and can compare that information through quick computer readouts as to where they were living when they registered to vote as opposed to, again, sending out paper notices and expecting people to send back affirmative responses that clarify that they’re still living there. They’re getting this information in other ways, through various mechanisms and means, probably on a daily basis, if not- obviously on a yearly basis, if not on a daily basis, through people’s interaction with state administrations and state offices. So if, if they were truly interested in making sure that their rolls were accurate they could just compare data to what they already have.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Kamau, I thank you so much for joining us today, and hope you can join us, because I think this will be, we’ll see the effects of this decision being rolled out as people go to the ballot box in 2018. I thank you so much for joining us.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thank you for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.