COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH/AP)–Voting rights groups sued Ohio’s elections chief this week, alleging the state’s process for purging election rolls is illegally removing eligible voters, particularly the homeless.
The latest challenge of voting procedures contends the state’s system eliminates names of registered voters based on their failure to vote. The lawsuit naming Secretary of State Jon Husted specifically alleges the illegal cancellation of registered voters who are homeless.
The lawsuit is related to a separate, ongoing complaint alleging laws and procedures for counting provisional ballots create hurdles for voters, particularly minorities.
The “supplemental process,” as Ohio’s voter roll maintenance program is known, “has led to, and threatens to continue to result in, the disenfranchisement of eligible Ohio voters,” according to the lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the New York-based public advocacy group Demos.
Husted “has cancelled the registrations of voters in part because of their failure to respond to a notice mailed to their registered address, including notices sent to homeless voters who frequently cannot receive mail reliably,” the lawsuit said.
Keary McCarthy, president of Innovation Ohio, says Husted has taken purging the voter rolls a step too far.
“To invalidate someone’s registration simply for the fact that they haven’t voted in six years is not what the National Voter Registration Act was intended to do and that’s why this lawsuit is so important,” McCarthy said.
Last year in Cuyahoga County, about 40,000 individuals were illegally purged from voter rolls for choosing not to vote, with a disproportionate number from poor and minority neighborhoods, according to the Ohio chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor group representing minorities.
The groups want the purging process stopped and any wrongly removed voters returned to the election rolls.
Husted, a Republican, said Ohio manages voter rolls according to state and federal law. He says the process, followed by previous state election chiefs, is consistent with a four-year-old federal court agreement.
Rolls containing names of deceased voters and people who’ve left the state have long contributed to voter fraud, long lines and discarded ballots, Husted said. Several counties in 2011 had more registered voters than those eligible to cast ballots, he said.
Ohio has removed nearly 465,000 deceased voters and 1.3 million duplicate voter registrations from the rolls, Husted said.
“This lawsuit is politically motivated, election-year politics, is a waste of taxpayer dollars and opens the door for voter fraud in Ohio,” Husted said in a statement.
But McCarthy says it’s Husted’s overly aggressive purging of the rolls that appears to be politically motivated.
“You end up depressing, I think, Democratic voters – Democratic turnout,” McCarthy said. “It affects both parties, certainly affects both parties, but when you think about potential motivation for this, you have to look at it honestly.”
Last month, testimony wrapped up in a related federal trial that could impact how thousands of ballots are cast and counted in Ohio. At issue in that case are several changes to the requirements for absentee or provisional ballots that the Republican-led state legislature passed in 2014.
The Ohio Democratic Party along with advocates for the homeless sued Husted, arguing among other issues that numerous valid ballots are being rejected because of technical errors.
In 2008, an Ohio federal judge ruled that counties must allow homeless voters to list park benches and other locations that aren’t buildings as their addresses. Homeless voters can put whatever location they consider home in the address line of voter registration forms, including landmarks or geographic locations, Josh Eck, a Husted spokesman, said Wednesday.