COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) – How Ohio maintains its voter registration rolls has been under legal attack for well over a year, and the war of interpretation is approaching its end before the U.S. Supreme Court.
For decades Ohio has maintained its voter rolls the same way, under both democrat and republican leadership.
When someone uses the U.S. postal service for a change of address, or is convicted of a felony, or files a death certificate, appropriate action is taken to adjust the voter’s registration to prevent fraud.
“If you want voters to trust your elections, you’ve got to prove to them that you’re doing everything that you possibly can to make sure that fraud doesn’t occur,” said Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
However, in some counties in Ohio, there are more voters on the rolls than there are adults currently living in the precincts.
There are a myriad of ways people end up on voter rolls they at one time were eligible to be on, but shouldn’t be on anymore.
Removing the names of ineligible voters makes it easier for poll workers to catch fraud, but the real reason states maintain voter rolls is to satisfying federal requirements that say they must maintain accurate voter rolls.
In other words, removing people from the rolls is not something the state of Ohio just came up with because it wanted to; the federal government forces the state to do it.
For the most part the legality of how Ohio maintains its rolls is undisputed, with one exception.
It is called the supplemental process, here’s how it works:
If a registered voter does not vote for 2 years, a letter is sent to them to find out if they are still alive and living at the address.
If the voter does not respond to the letter, they are given 4 additional years to vote or interact with election officials.
After the 6 total years goes by without any action by the voter, the state removes the person from the voter rolls.
No one can be removed from the rolls prior to that amount of time going by.
Beyond that, eligible voters can still participate in elections if they take the steps to re-register.
“You don’t lose your right to vote ever; you just need to exercise that right to vote,” said Husted. “You maintain yourself on the voter rolls by actually voting; but there has to be some standard whereby we say, you can’t just register and be on the rolls forever if you don’t vote; because if you did that we would have more voters on the rolls than we have adults in every county in the state.”
While people do have the right not to vote, they also have a personal responsibility for keeping their registration up to date.
In Ohio, that is relatively simple. Registration can be checked online in a matter of seconds.
Voters also have up to 30 days before an election to register to vote in it.
Husted says, the supplemental process in question follows federal guidelines for removing people from the voter rolls; but not everyone agrees.
“You may not like the process, you may think 6 years isn’t long enough, you want to make it 8 years, but the bottom line is; it’s the law,” said Husted.
Opponents argue the process removes people simply because they haven’t voted, something expressly prohibited by federal law, however, as Husted points out there are exceptions to that provision.
Husted believes the process follows those exceptions, and a federal district court judge agreed with him ruling in favor of the state and its process.
The people who brought the suit to begin with didn’t like that outcome, so they appealed to a higher court.
That appeal resulted in the lower court’s ruling being overturned when three judges split their decision 2-1 against the state.
This October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments over the supplemental process and make the final decision about its legality.
“I hope that the court will see what we’ve done is in accordance with all of our laws, following that process to maintain that balance between making it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” said Husted.
Opponents of the process are hoping the justices in Washington D.C. agree with them instead.