Supreme Court: Vote or lose the right


By Dorothy Inman-Johnson
Special to the Outlook

On June 11, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 conservative majority vote overturned a federal appeals court ruling in the Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute case. In doing so, the Supreme Court gave a green light to states seeking a way to remove certain voters from the voting rolls. Specifically, it allows Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State (Husted) to purge/ remove registered voters from voter rolls for not voting in two election cycles. The A. Philip Randolph Institute filed a case on behalf of plaintiffs who learned their names had been purged when they were denied the right to vote on Election Day. The Obama administration joined the case on behalf of the plaintiffs and the federal court ruled in their favor. However, Ohio appealed the ruling. With Trump’s appointment of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the court’s majority decidedly shifted to the right. It was, therefore, no surprise that the five conservative Justices voted to allow Ohio’s aggressive process for purging voters.

Many states purge voting rolls to verify whether voters have moved, are deceased, or if there are other reasons they may be ineligible to vote, after registered voters repeatedly miss voting in elections. None have a process, though, that removes voters from the rolls as quickly as Ohio. Studies show that 144,000 voters were removed in recent years mostly from Ohio’s three largest cities_ Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati_ with the highest numbers of democratic, minority, and low-income residents. The Ohio practice for purging is called a “Supplemental Process”. If a person does not vote in a two year, single election cycle, a notification card is sent requiring him/ her to complete and return the card verifying current address. If not returned and the registered voter fails to vote within the next four years, the name is automatically purged from the voter rolls.

Voter rights advocates view this ruling as a very bad sign of what to expect from this Supreme Court on future voter suppression cases. Some are recommending that Congress pass a Voter Bill of Rights that would protect against voter ID laws targeting certain voters, the elimination of early voting, Election Day intimidation, and aggressive voter purges like the one in Florida in 2000 that led to many eligible voters being purged without notice by a consultant hired by the state. Michael McDonald, a political scientist and University of Florida Director of the U.S. Elections Project, feels many states with Republican governors and legislatures are poised to follow Ohio’s lead and drastically shorten the number of elections a voter can miss before being purged.

The real take away from this ruling is simple_ the purpose for registering to vote is to vote. If we are good citizens and regularly exercise our right to vote in each election, this ruling will have no effect on us. It all boils down to personal responsibility. Neither the U.S. Constitution nor the 1965 Voting Rights Act guarantees our right to vote if we repeatedly choose not to use it. There are still folks in positions of power who feel some of us do not deserve the right to participate in the political process as a voter, candidate, or elected official. We just need to remember how apoplectic most White Americans became with the election of President Obama. And they will do anything to prevent that ever happening again. We play right into their plan and become our own worst enemies when we choose not to vote. This is particularly important in 2018 when Amendment 4 is on the November ballot seeking to restore ex-felons’ right to vote. It would make no sense at all for legally registered voters to voluntarily give up their right to vote by just refusing to vote. Every two years there is an election for local, state, and congressional leaders. The mid-term elections are just as important as the presidential elections every four years. And November 2018 is a very important mid-term election if we want to restore sanity to Washington. No one should sit this one out. In 2020, we will have a chance to elect a President to give America back the respect, dignity, and honor we lost with the election of Trump. Our vote gives us the power to decide the quality of our justice system, schools, and communities.

The Supreme Court ruling on voter purges is simply a reminder that we must use our vote or lose it. It is all up to us.

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