By Tim Reid
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) – Ohio’s secretary of state announced on Tuesday that the state will not start purging people from voter rolls until after November’s midterm elections. His decision came the day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state’s policy of removing infrequent voters from voter lists was constitutional.
The announcement by Jon Husted, the secretary of state, allayed concerns of voting rights advocates who were worried he would direct election officials to start purging the rolls before November. Voter rights groups feared any culling could depress turnout and impact November’s elections.
In a prepared statement, Husted said he had told county election officials that voter cancellations will not begin until after the Nov. 6 elections.
The reason, he said, was a federal law that prohibits cancelling voter registrations less than 90 days prior to a federal election. The state will hold an election on Aug. 7.
Voters purged from registration rolls who challenged the policy in the Republican-governed state argued before the Supreme Court that the practice illegally erased tens of thousands of voters from registration rolls and disproportionately affected racial minorities and poor people who tend to back Democratic candidates. Ohio has governor and Senate races that are expected to be close.
In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled on Monday that the practice was constitutional and reinstated it. It had been on hold pending the ruling.
All states periodically remove names from voter rolls because people move to another jurisdiction or die. But under Ohio’s policy, if registered voters miss voting for two years, they are sent registration confirmation notices. If they do not respond and do not vote over the following four years, they are purged and cannot vote until they re-register to vote.
Husted praised Monday’s decision, saying it was a validation of Ohio’s efforts to clean up the state’s voting rolls.
According to a 2016 Reuters analysis, in Ohio’s three largest counties – which include Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus – voters were struck from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods at roughly twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods.