Federal Judge Says Ohio Voter Purge Can Continue
COLUMBUS, Ohio — U.S. District Judge James L. Graham on Tuesday chose not to delay Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s purge of 235,000 people on Ohio voter registration rolls planned for Friday.
LaRose spokeswoman Maggie Sheehan said, “Obviously we’re happy about the court’s recognition of the unprecedented levels of transparency we’ve brought to this process. We’ll continue our work to carry out the law and our mission to run accessible, secure and accurate elections.”
Greg Beswick, executive director of the Ohio Democratic Party, which had requested the temporary restraining order Friday, said voters will suffer.
“It’s disturbing that this week’s planned voter purge will go forward even when the secretary of state’s office has admitted there is an ongoing investigation into errors that resulted in thousands of Ohio voters being improperly — and we contend, unlawfully — flagged to be removed from the rolls,” Beswick said.
“The specter that any active voters are purged due to government error, and no fault of their own, is unacceptable. We will continue to advocate for every eligible Ohio voter — no matter their partisan affiliation — to have the opportunity to cast a ballot and make their voices heard.”
The Democratic lawsuit was filed after The Dispatch reported that a vendor who works with county boards of elections mistakenly flagged more than 1,600 people for purging from the rolls of eligible voters, marking the second time in three weeks that problems have surfaced with the list of registrations that could be canceled. Democrats, counting additional possible discrepancies uncovered by the Ohio League of Women voters and others, said more than 30,000 eligible voters could be removed in the purge.
But Graham, who held a conference call with attorneys Tuesday afternoon, said in a 10-page ruling that the party is unlikely to win the case and would not suffer the “irreparable injury” needed to warrant a restraining order.
“This evidence does not establish that the secretary is implementing measures which render the voting system fundamentally unfair. The occurrence of a past problem with the list does not prove the existence of a current one. More importantly, the secretary has shown in both instances that he restored those registrants who were eligible to vote to the voter file,” Graham ruled.
“The court further finds that the public has a substantial interest in the maintenance of accurate and up-to-date voter registration records. Indeed, the state has an obligation to keep the records ‘accurate’ and ‘updated regularly.’ The secretary has been transparent in releasing the registration reset list to the public and inviting feedback. Court intervention to disrupt and delay this process would not serve the public interest.”
Those on Ohio’s voter registration rolls are subject to purge if they go six years without voting and fail to respond to address confirmation letters from county elections boards. Ohio already removed 265,000 from the voter rolls earlier this year, meaning if another 235,000 come off the books Friday, half-a-million will have been removed this year.
Meanwhile, the group All Voting is Local said it would send text alerts to 103,000 Ohioans Tuesday to update their voter registrations to avoid being purged.
Mike Brickner, Ohio state director for the organization, said in a statement: “The purge process is supposed to find ineligible voters, such as those who have died or moved out of state. However, according to Secretary of State LaRose himself, thousands of voters at risk of being purged have already alerted the state that they are still very much alive and wish to vote in Ohio.”
© 2019The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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