With renewed vigor, U.S. top court scrutinizes curbs on voting

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Government officials across the United States try to maintain accurate voter rolls by removing people who have died or moved away. But a case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday explores whether some states are aggressively purging voter rolls in a way that disenfranchises thousands of voters.

The justices will hear arguments in Republican-governed Ohio’s appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked its policy of erasing from voter registration lists people who do not regularly cast a ballot. Under the policy, such registration is deleted if the person goes six years without either voting or contacting state voting officials.

“Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and it is much too important to treat as a ‘use it or lose it’ right,” said Stuart Naifeh, a voting rights lawyer with liberal advocacy group Demos, which is representing plaintiffs challenging Ohio’s policy along with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Voting rights has been an important theme before the Supreme Court during their nine-month term that began in October, in particular the question of whether actions by state leaders have disenfranchised thousands of voters either by marginalizing their electoral clout or by prohibiting them from voting.

Two other cases could have a big impact on U.S. elections. At issue is whether Republican-drawn electoral districts in Wisconsin and Democratic-drawn districts in Maryland were fashioned to entrench the majority party in power in such an extreme way that they violated the constitutional rights of certain voters. The practice is called partisan gerrymandering.

The conservative-majority court also could take up other voting rights disputes this term including a bid by Texas to revive Republican-drawn electoral districts that were thrown out by a lower court for discriminating against black and Hispanic voters.

Most states periodically cleanse their voter rolls to prevent irregularities, such as someone voting more than once on Election Day. Ohio is one of seven states, along with Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, that purge infrequent voters from registration lists, according to the plaintiffs who sued Ohio in 2016.

“Among those, Ohio is the most aggressive. It has the shortest timeline for removing people for non-voting,” Naifeh said.

‘EFFICIENCY AND INTEGRITY’

Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted noted that the state’s policy has been in place since the…

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