DOJ reverses position in upcoming Supreme Court voting rights case

ERIC SANDY  SCENE

Sessions' DOJ Switches Sides In Voting Rights Case To Back Ohio Voter Purge

The White House is "playing politics with our democracy and threatening the fundamental right to vote", said the League of Women Voters in a statement to Reuters.

Regarding the pending Supreme Court case Husted v A. Philip Randolph Institute, President Donald Trump's Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an amicus brief (pdf) in favor of Ohio's voter-rolls maintenance program-which cancels registrations of those who do not update their registrations or vote over six years-a move that critics warn "opens the door for wide-scale unlawful purging of the voter registration rolls across our country".

The supplemental process was struck down in September 2016 by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled that the OH process violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 by removing voters from the rolls simply because they have not voted.

"After this Court's grant of review and the change in Administrations, the Department reconsidered the question", the brief states, which was filed Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court said in May it would hear the case.

In their brief, government lawyers say they reconsidered the OH vote-purging issue after the "change in Administrations", and they argue that the state's actions are legal under federal law.

The Department of Justice is supporting OH in its bid at the Supreme Court to revive a state policy of purging inactive voters from registration rolls.

It then allowed the state to purge voters who did not respond to the notice, but only if they failed to vote during the following four years. This brief, unlike the prior one, was not signed by career attorneys in the civil rights division. "At issue in the OH voter purging case are thousands of eligible voters who were properly registered, and did not lose their eligibility but were nonetheless kicked off the rolls".

"You know, we typically rely on the Department of Justice to expand and protect the right to vote".

Under Ohio's policy, voters who do not cast a ballot for two years would be sent a notice to confirm their voter registration.

Brenda Wright, the vice president of policy and legal strategies at Demos, one of the civil rights group representing the plaintiffs in the OH case, called the policy "a direct threat to the fundamental rights of Americans and one more step toward dismantling our democracy". The facts haven't changed.

"This case is about maintaining the integrity of our elections, something that will be harder to do if elections officials are not be able to properly maintain the voter rolls", Husted said in a statement Tuesday.

The ACLU called the Justice Department's decision disappointing, saying the agency has consistently rejected the notion of purging people from rolls just for voting infrequently.

Husted told Reuters that the policy was administered the same by both Republicans and Democrats. The Justice Department under President Barack Obama said Ohio's method was prohibited. Some of those voters were legitimately removed because they either died or left the state, but a 2016 investigation by Reuters found that low-income, black, Democratic voters were disproportionately purged.

"This isn't a war on voter fraud", Perez said.

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