Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Supreme Court Decision Allows Ohio To Drop Voters For Missing Election And A Post Card

Justin Levitt, a redistricting expert I respect, wrote a very detailed analysis of yesterday's Supreme Court decision which allows Ohio to purge voters who miss an election and a follow up post card. The whole thing is worth reading; here's a snippet:
"And then there’s the Supreme Court decision, its own bundle of disappointments. It’s a disappointing approach to have so little regard for what Congress was trying to achieve.  Congress set out to limit unwarranted purges of eligible voters, and it’s hard to believe they approved a process allowing voters to be kicked off of the rolls without any reliable evidence that they might in fact be ineligible.
It’s a disappointing triumph of empty formalism. Recall that the statute says that individuals can’t be removed because they haven’t voted. At one point, Justice Alito explains that Ohio does not purge people because they haven’t voted, because purging also turns on the failure to return a postcard. This is an astonishingly thin conception of causation, and a mechanical version of textualism that should by all rights fail the Turing test.
It’s a disappointing trivialization of the franchise. Magazine subscriptions lapse because of inactivity. But part of the whole reason for this portion of the federal code is the notion that access to fundamental rights doesn’t.
And it has disappointing consequences. Some eligible voters who have not recently participated and who miss a single mailing will be unaware that they are no longer registered, and in states without same-day registration, will discover the problem too late to cast a valid ballot. Joe Helle registered in Ohio in 2004, missed a few elections while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and arrived home to find himself purged from the rolls and shut out from the coming election, despite no change in his underlying eligibility. The process will likely have inequitable ramifications beyond servicemembers, as well: groups that tend to vote less often, the very citizens we should be making more efforts to engage, will naturally be more affected."

I'd also like to know what sort of accountability the department has on their purging activity. Are people in all areas treated the same?

And if anyone is wondering if they have been purged from the voting rolls here in Alaska, I called the Election Office and spoke to Rachel who showed me where to check online.  So it's pretty easy to make sure you're still there.

But the process here is much more lenient.  After four years of voter inactivity (that means not voting) they send you a post card and ask you if you want to stay registered.  If that comes back with a forwarding address, they'll send a second post card.  After that you are put on a list called "inactive purge."  That lasts another four years, for a total of eight years without having voted.

If you're on inactive purge and you go to vote, you won't show up on the list of voters in your precinct or anywhere else.  But you can vote a questioned ballot and if you're on the inactive purge list, your vote will count.  But, as I understood it,  you will only be able to vote for statewide offices - say this November, Governor, House of Representatives, and any propositions.

Within and hour of posting, I decided there needed to be more.  It's not quite long enough to call it an update.  

I looked up whether you could check online to see if you were registered in Ohio as well.  You can.  Here's the link to the page.

I've complained in the past that Alaska has way too many registered voters.  People die, people move away from Alaska.  Few of them (or their heirs) notify the state.  Other people move to different parts of the state.  And we have a pretty low voter turnout.  Not voting for eight years, seems like a pretty lenient policy.    And no one has presented evidence that people are falsely voting on behalf of any of these no-longer-here voters.

If voter fraud isn't a problem, what difference does it make if ghost voters hang around eight years?  Nothing too serious, certainly not serious enough to accidentally purge people who think they're registered.

Candidates will have more voters to contact when they run for office.  But they tend to ignore people who haven't voted for a number of years.  Many just go after the super voters in their party (and independents).  So that's not a big problem.

Perception of voting turnout.  If there were 100,000 registered voters (an easy number to calculate with) and 20,000 voted in an election, we'd say the turnout was 20% of the registered voters.  Not very good.
But if 30% (30,000) of those 100,000 no longer lived in Alaska but were still on the list of registered voters, then there'd really be only 70,000 registered voters.  20,000 voters out of a total of 70,000 registered voters would come out to 28% turnout.  That's quite a bit better, but still pitiful.

With smart phones and iPads on the campaign trail, candidates and their supporters can go online and show potential voters whether they are still registered or not.  Yes, it's an obstacle, but given how many people don't vote at all, it's probably a rather small bump.  But as Justice Sotomayor pointed out in her dissent in this case, it affect low income and minority voters much more than suburban white neighborhoods.
"It is unsurprising in light of the history of such purge programs that numerous amici report that the Supple- mental Process has disproportionately affected minority, low-income, disabled, and veteran voters. As one example, amici point to an investigation that revealed that in Ham- ilton County, “African-American-majority neighborhoods in downtown Cincinnati had 10% of their voters removed due to inactivity” since 2012, as “compared to only 4% of voters in a suburban, majority-white neighborhood.” Brief for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People et al. as Amici Curiae 18–19. Amici also explain at length how low voter turnout rates, language-access prob- lems, mail delivery issues, inflexible work schedules, and transportation issues, among other obstacles, make it more difficult for many minority, low-income, disabled, homeless, and veteran voters to cast a ballot or return a notice, rendering them particularly vulnerable to unwar- ranted removal under the Supplemental Process."
I'm sure some see this just as a simple task that responsible citizens take care of, others see this as an intentional tactic to lower Democratic voter turnout, and along with the myriad of other ways of stacking the vote from voter id to gerrymandering, each of these attempts all together create a sizable obstacle for some voters.  


  1. Jay, I've written here about Ohio and Alaska. I'm guessing you're referring to Ohio and the SC decision, not Alaska. You seem to be arguing that letting people who have moved overseas keep their voter registration even after not voting is a way to help them keep their ties to the US. I'm not sure what the majority of the SC on this case would say about that argument other than that they ruled based on the law, not on such sentiments.
    Playing the role of the Division of Elections, I'd ask how you suggest they figure out how to purge the registration list of people who have died or moved away, who do not notify them? Other than asking people who haven't voted for four years (Alaska case) if they still live in Alaska and want to stay registered. You can even register online (helpful for overseas folk) and when you get your driver's license. You can check online to see if you are registered (in Ohio too). What's the happy medium between keeping lots of people who have died or moved out of state on the rolls, and accidentally (Alaska case) unregistering legitimate residents? How much should the state have to do and how much the voter?

  2. I was thinking this is Ohio's contribution to the non-existent voter fraud fraud they have been whining about for years. Some of them still believe millions of illegal voters helped HRC last election without a scintilla of evidence.

  3. Look up proxy servers. That's how Chinese get to Western websites that are blocked in China. Though that's for different reasons.
    Interesting. I would suspect that there's something ADN and others have to do about cookies and other things. The more sinister explanation is that they're using privacy as an excuse to block websites. I go with explanation A. I think the blog works because Google's more savvy than ADN about these things and made sure Blogger would do what it needed to do.


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