DOJ Reverses Obama-Era Decision, Supports Ohio Policies to Cleanup Voter Rolls

A voter casts their ballot at a polling station
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• August 8, 2017 4:09 pm


The U.S. Department of Justice has reversed an Obama-era decision that attempted to curtail the Ohio government's efforts to cleanup voting rolls.

Justice Department lawyers under the Trump administration determined the National Voter Registration Act does not prohibit rules such as those used in Ohio to remove thousands of inactive voters from the state's voting rolls, the Washington Times reported.

Ohio's policies involved sending notices to voters who did not vote during a two-year period. The notices inquired whether the voters might have moved, died, or otherwise become ineligible to vote. When the government did not receive a response, or individuals did not vote in the next four years, the voters could be removed from the state's voter rolls.

The Supreme Court announced in May it would hear the case to examine the legality of Ohio's policies. After a lower court ruled against the state, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings.

In opposition to the Ohio government, the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama argued that before a state can start the confirmation process to remove a voter, "it must have reliable evidence that the voter has moved," according to the Washington Times. Declining to vote did not provide such evidence, the department argued.

Certain voter-rights groups also stand in opposition to the Ohio policies. The groups argue the government is attempting to strip some voters of their ability to participate.

The argument is commonly referenced by Democrats in opposition to Republican policies. Republicans often argue actions—such as implementing voter ID laws—must be taken to reduce voter fraud while also encouraging legal voting. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats argue such policies make it overly difficult to vote. In July, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez made such claims in reference to Trump's controversial Commission on Election Integrity.

"This isn't a war on voter fraud," Perez said. "It's a war on voters—and it's only being waged by Republicans."

The Ohio government has argued the National Voter Registration Act supports its policies in order to minimize potential voter fraud.

The Supreme Court's decision will be carefully watched by other states that have also attempted to cleanup voter rolls.