The Editors: We need laws that defend the right to vote.

Photo by Samuel Schneider on Unsplash

In one of several narrowly focused decisions this spring, the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s unusually aggressive practice of purging tens of thousands of citizens from voter rolls for skipping even a single presidential election. Ohio mailed warning notices to 1.5 million voters, two-thirds of whom did not respond and thus became ineligible to vote in the next election. While Ohio’s policy is detestible, the court’s logic in upholding it is defensible. Even under the Voting Rights Act, states have plenty of room to erect hurdles for citizens who wish to cast ballots—as long as the state is able to argue, even as a pretext, that it has some motive other than excluding people on the basis of race, gender or age.

Stretching voter regulation powers to the limit, however, is contrary to the spirit of a democracy. The patchwork of election systems in the United States includes: short voting periods on workdays; an inadequate number of polling places in both urban and physically remote areas; voter ID laws that place financial burdens on those without driver’s licenses; registration deadlines up to a month before an election; and, in Florida, the requirement that ex-felons personally appeal to the governor, one at at time, to get their voting rights back.

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All of these can serve to discourage citizens from political participation, and they can not-so-subtly target certain groups, including first-time voters and those who frequently change addresses for economic or other reasons. Yet trying to invalidate these policies by asking courts to find that they were adopted with discriminatory intent is a formula for endless litigation.

Raising hurdles to make it harder to vote, along with other practices like gerrymandering, reveals the real priorities of political leaders who would rather choose their voters than face a truly representative electorate.

In his dissent from the ruling upholding Ohio’s voting purge, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that “the purpose of our election process is not to test the fortitude and determination of the voter, but to discern the will of the majority,” as he quoted from a U.S. Senate report. That aim should guide reforms of our voting systems.

The failure to vote in a presidential election, which Ohio used to purge voters, can have many meanings, including—as is the case for many Catholics—moral objections to both candidates running. No matter how a state chooses to keep its voter rolls current, it can also provide mechanisms to avoid widespread disenfranchisement, such as allowing registration at polling places, provisional ballots or mail-based voting.

Raising hurdles to make it harder to vote, along with other practices like gerrymandering, reveals the real priorities of political leaders who would rather choose their voters than face a truly representative electorate. While such antidemocratic approaches should not be countenanced, they cannot be defeated solely in the courts. The country needs laws that affirmatively defend the right to vote; even more important, it needs political leaders who would be ashamed to do anything else.

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J Cosgrove
4 months ago

Translation: We need more people to vote for Democrats. I would bet that if there was a trend for new voters to vote for Republicans, we would see a different editorial.

Are blacks underrepresented at the polls? There were some districts in Philadelphia where turnout was near 100%.

J Cosgrove
4 months ago

Aside: the Democrats currently have a campaign to gerrymander in about a dozen states to get Democrats elected. Of course Republicans have done the same in the past. A lot of gerrymandering had the objective of getting minorities elected to office.

Stanley Kopacz
4 months ago

Not only do we have to promote more people voting and fight voter suppression, we need to change the vote itself, making it more powerful.. I want a first and second choice. If the first choice doesn't get a plurality, the second choice gets the vote. That way we can rid ourselves of the two party duopoly, which is mostly a sock puppet fight. Except the last time when an emotionally stunted know nothing was handed nuclear weaponry.

Joseph J Dunn
4 months ago

"In one of several narrowly focused decisions this spring, the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s unusually aggressive practice of purging tens of thousands of citizens from voter rolls for skipping even a single presidential election. Ohio mailed warning notices to 1.5 million voters, two-thirds of whom did not respond and thus became ineligible to vote in the next election...Ohio’s policy is detestible,"
Really?
This story states that to be dropped from the voting rolls, one had to BOTH not vote in the last presidential election AND fail to respond to a notice mailed to that voter's last registered address. The fact that one million Ohioans failed to respond to the notice is itself strong evidence of either chronic complacency or massively defective voter registration rolls, or some combination of the two. Each state has the responsibility for the conduct of elections within the state. That means access to the polls for all who want to vote. It also means conducting an election in which a voter's vote is counted in the district in which he or she currently lives. One million unclaimed names on a state's voting registration rolls is cause for serious concern. Those million Ohio voters who were delisted can, if I understand correctly, register anew between now and the next state election, and surely in the 28 months between now and the next presidential election. There may well be some "detestable" abuses in voter registration requirements, the availability of polling places, etc. But this program in Ohio is hardly that.
And if the candidates at the top of the ticket were so despicable as to warrant a boycott, what about the Congressional candidates, local and state officials on the same ballot? Were they also despicable? Sounds like a really lame reason for not voting.

Stanley Kopacz
4 months ago

Last year was my year from hell. Both my elderly mother and aunt were hospitalized simultaneously and things went downhill from there, dealing with hospice care, becoming a caretaker, taking over finances. If I had received a notice to reregister as a voter, it likely would have been set aside and forgotten under the circumstances. People have lives and exigencies. Sometimes, when a state introduces new bureaucratic hurdles, it passes ignored unless there is an advertising campaign to raise awareness. Was there one in Ohio?

Joseph J Dunn
4 months ago

Stanley-- I have no idea what advertising was done, but perhaps the Editors checked that out. I do however strongly suspect that the program was widely reported by the news media, when the Act was proposed, when it passed, and when the impact began to be visible. To the extent that the Act was "detestible", as the Editors state, I would suspect that it was even more widely reported and editorialized in local papers, TV, etc. Or, are we to assume that Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and the local stations of the TV networks, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and all the local newspapers, all buried this story?
I certainly empathize with your 'year from hell' --we all have them, and for some people the challenges seem endless. But we might agree that, when the emergency has passed, there is time to be cognizant of the law and re-register, which in most states is a simple process. We might also agree that each voter has an interest in seeing his or her vote counted with all other valid votes,(THAT is an equality/civil rights issue) and a minimization of (1) votes cast by people in districts in which they no longer reside, and (2) votes cast by persons impersonating an inactive voter who's name still appears on the rolls, etc. That Ohio found one million inactive (in one election) AND unresponsive to the widely reported campaign, is prima facia evidence of a real problem in Ohio's voter registration rolls, and that, too, should concern all citizens. Peace.

Stanley Kopacz
4 months ago

The validity of Ohio's exercise could easily be empirically checked as should all government programs. Take a significant random sampling of voters, knock on their doors and ascertain whether or not they actually live there. My guess is that this will never be done and there is no interest in doing so. Excuse my cynicism, but this is just politicians playing games for their benefit under the guise of controlling an alleged exagerrated problem. And if anyone wants to object that Democrats play the same game, save your arthritic baby boomer fingers. If you read my post above, you'll see that I want to sweep both permanently money-corrupted parties into oblivion like the detritus they are.

Stuart Meisenzahl
4 months ago

Stan
Read Joe Dunn's post below which contains a concise summary of the Ohio Law addressed by the Supreme Court. I think you will find that the description in the Editorial of what the law said is a gross distortion......The law actually provides about a six year process for removal when the Editorial would have you believe its as little as one year. For contrast consider the fact that in many jurisdictions that a person being missing for 7 years permits an application for a declaration of his death!

Toby Gillis
4 months ago

Here in Fl we HAVE TO HAVE a valid ID to register to vote, I would assume it is then same in all States. WHY is it such a problem to show THAT SAME ID at the polls???

Stanley Kopacz
4 months ago

I never had to do show my ID before and now I do. If it was ok for a hundred years without it, what's the problem now? Rampant vote fraud? Prove it. Voter suppression and slick political tricks, more likely.

Barry Sullivan
4 months ago

Bravo! This editorial succinctly states what must be done to ensure that our government truly reflects the will of the citizens, which is under considerable attack at this moment.
Thank you for this important commentary.

Joseph J Dunn
4 months ago

Perhaps to conform to space constraints, the first paragraph of this editorial gives a shortened version of the Ohio process. According to Oyez.org, a highly reputable reporter of Supreme Court cases, the Supreme Court in "Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute" found:
"Ohio currently employs a process that clears the state’s voter rolls of individuals who have died or relocated. Under this process, voters who have not voted for two years are sent notices to confirm their registration. If the state receives no response and these individuals do not vote over the next four years, they are ultimately removed from the rolls." That last sentence is important, and its omission from the editorial is unfortunate. The link to the Oyez report: www.oyez.org/cases/2017/16-980.

Stuart Meisenzahl
4 months ago

Joe
The Editors are continually grossly deficient when there is any legal issue involved. For example the multiple articles and Editorial on The Immigration Crisis are replete with errors as to what the governing laws are and what the Courts of the 9th Circuit have ordered.
This Ohio voter case is just another in a string of such matters . It appears the Editors are simply relying on third party sources which confirm their preconceived opinions rather than independently doing their own legal research.

Editors....if you are going to write Editorials based on legal cases and Court rulings, then hire a lawyer to give you an outline of the facts and the Court holding. You owe no less to your readers and your repeated failure to do so demonstrates gross carelessness or outright intellectual dishonesty and an intent to deceive.

justinreany@gmail.com
4 months ago

I grew up in a very secular but civic-minded household to my late teens. We were reared in proper behavior/manners, a great hard work ethic, and an ethical philosophy akin to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Even though we were not religious we were instead given a great love and devotion to this great (and it is great - warts n' all) nation. Now as an adult, convert to Catholicism (traditional), husband/father, hard worker, etc. I am even more zealous for the renewal of this nation.

I always look to America Magazine to get what the liberal Democrat platform is filtering through it. Our electoral process is a great gift but must be protected. I agree with the title of this article but reject the content. Laws are required to control and root out fraud and cheating. Dead people are not supposed to cast votes! Nor illegals. Nor violent felons or those incarcerated. Ohio is well within its rights to clean up the voter registries. States should require identification (photo ID + fingerprint). No sane person has a problem with such measures unless they are trying scam you somehow. Exercising our civil duties/rights should require effort and diligence. I am hopeful now we are getting a saner Supreme Court more sane and just rulings on voter anti-fraud measures will be upheld. This only bodes poorly for liberals.

justinreany@gmail.com
4 months ago

I would also ask the frightening amount of liberals here what their rationale is for excessively regulating, through laws and social stigma, the right to bear arms ("...shall not be infringed.") but want very little to know regulation of the right to vote? Can a dishonest or corrupted electoral process pose a threat to the common good aND our system of gov't?

justinreany@gmail.com
4 months ago

I would also ask the frightening amount of liberals here what their rationale is for excessively regulating, through laws and social stigma, the right to bear arms ("...shall not be infringed.") but want very little to know regulation of the right to vote? Can a dishonest or corrupted electoral process pose a threat to the common good aND our system of gov't?

Barry Sullivan
4 months ago

A little more background, especially for those questioning whether the America summary was accurate.
Supreme Court Upholds Controversial Ohio Voter-Purge Law : NPR
https://www.npr.org/2018/.../supreme-court-upholds-controversial-ohio-v…
Jun 11, 2018 - The Supreme Court upheld the most aggressive voter-purge law in ... In Key Voting-Rights Case, Court Appears Divided Over Ohio's 'Use It Or ... https://www.npr.org/2018/06/11/618870982/supreme-court-upholds-controve…
In case this link doesn't open, here are the facts, as reported in Nina Totenberg's NPR report, from the person who brought the case: The challenge to Ohio's law was brought by a software engineer named Larry Harmon, who usually votes only in presidential elections. In 2012, he didn't like the Obama-Romney choice, and so he stayed home. And when he went to vote a couple of years later, against a ballot initiative about marijuana legalization, he found he was no longer registered. He had been purged from the rolls, because he hadn't voted in two consecutive elections, nor had he sent back a postcard the state sent out to confirm that his address had not changed.

Harmon has lived at the same address for more than 16 years but doesn't ever remember receiving such a letter. So he sued the state, contending there are lots of other ways to confirm an address, including checking property records, tax forms, and drivers' licenses. "I earned the right to vote," said the navy veteran. "Whether I use it or not is up to my personal discretion. They don't take away my right to buy a gun if I don't buy a gun."

Note the last quote! I think it says much. The America editors have raised important issues in this commentary, which those who support democratic politics and voter rights should carefully consider. Also, see the apt dissenting opinion, as quoted in the above article:
" Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that 'the purpose of our election process is not to test the fortitude and determination of the voter, but to discern the will of the majority,' as he quoted from a U.S. Senate report."

Stuart Meisenzahl
4 months ago

Barry
Read the case yourself to see what the actual law says.
NPR's Nina Totenberg frequently leaves out essential details ...in this case exactly how many years had passed between Harmon's last vote and the time he tried to vote but was advised he was not registered. She is a noted liberal interpreter of Supreme Court events. She is so liberal politically correct that she actually apologized for using the phrase "a Christmas Party"
Joe Dunn has posted above a summary of the law provided by the Oyez site which provides summaries of important cases to lawyers. The Oyez summary includes theOhio Law provisions. By comparison it is self evident that the Editors presentation has distorted the presentation of the Ohio Law in question to bolster its long standing views on so called voter disenfranchisement.

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