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Ohio sends 'last chance' notices to more than 275,000 inactive voters

Civil rights groups unsuccessfully challenged Ohio's regimen in maintaining its voter rolls as a "purge" ahead of last year's election.
Image: Ohio Vote
Voters cast their ballots among an array of electronic voting machines in a polling station at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center, in Dublin, Ohio on Aug. 7, 2018.John Minchillo / AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio's elections chief said Wednesday that more than 275,000 inactive Ohio voters are about to get their final opportunity to keep from dropping off the rolls.

Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted said that's the total number of so-called "last chance mailings" going out from county boards of elections as part of Ohio's contested process for keeping its list of eligible voters up-to-date.

Ohio's procedure for maintaining its voter rolls is considered one of the most stringent in the nation, because it employs a "supplemental process" that has led to the removal of thousands of people who failed to vote and then didn't respond to government requests to affirm their registrations.

Civil rights groups unsuccessfully challenged Ohio's regimen as a voter "purge" ahead of last year's election — claiming it violated a provision of the voter registration law that prohibits rescinding someone's registration "by reason of the person's failure to vote."

Image: Jon Husted
Secretary of State Jon Husted speaking at the Columbus Chamber of Commerce Government Day in Cincinnati, Ohio on Oct. 16, 2018.John Minchillo / AP file

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected their arguments, finding in Husted's favor. Nonetheless, he temporarily put the procedures on hold to avoid confusion during the November election, in which he was elected lieutenant governor.

A spokesman said the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which brought the suit, remains concerned about Ohio's plans to remove infrequent voters from the rolls.

"The question of whether these 275,000 registrants can be lawfully removed the rolls remains in question," said spokesman Andre Washington. He said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling applied only to the use of non-voting as a trigger for the removal process, while the notices Ohio is using are still before the Sixth Circuit.

"We will continue to strive to make sure that Ohio does not deny voters who have been unlawfully removed from the registration rolls the right to participate in the political process," he said.

Husted characterized last chance mailings as part of his office's efforts to help voters stay registered — not to kick them off the rolls. Those efforts also include new online notifications for voters about changes to their registration status and the use of Bureau of Motor Vehicles data to confirm a voter's address.

"From online voter registration to these last chance mailings, every innovative reform implemented by my office over the last eight years has been done to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat," he said in a statement. "We want every eligible Ohioan to be an engaged, active participant in our elections."

Spokesman Matt McClellan said those who respond properly to the last chance mailings will remain registered. And if they drop off, he said, they can easily re-register online .

Ohio's voting rules are of particular interest nationally, because it's one of the larger swing states with the potential to determine the outcome of presidential elections.

The state's maintenance procedures stemmed from a requirement in federal law that states have to make an effort to keep their voter rolls in good shape by removing people who have moved or died. Husted's office said most of the 275,000 voters receiving last chance notices have, in fact, probably either moved out of state or died.

Ohio secretaries of state of both parties have used voters' inactivity to trigger the removal process since 1994.