On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the landmark case that rendered the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unenforceable until amended by Congress, the court ruled on another significant case challenging an Ohio voter purge law.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the law that allows state officials to purge voters from its voter rolls that failed to vote in two consecutive federal election cycles and failed to respond to a notice delivered by mail. Now, the decision has helped fuel debates around nationwide voter suppression efforts with voting-right advocates worried that it will embolden other states to implement similar laws that will limit eligible voters from minority and low-income backgrounds from exercising their right to vote.
Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said the court’s decision failed to protect the fundamental right of Americans to vote.
“From Citizens United, to Shelby v. Holder now to Husted, voting rights are under attack,” Fudge said. “Enough is enough.”
Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that states are allowed to purge voters who are inactive and do not respond to requests to confirm their residency.
“A state violates the failure-to-vote clause only if it removes registrants for no reason other than their failure to vote,” Alito said.
Yet voting advocates remain angry.
“This decision demands that the NAACP and like-minded organizations redouble their efforts to ensure that voters of color are registered and prepared to vote in this fall’s elections,” said NAACP General Counsel Bradford Berry.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out that the conservative majority decision upheld a law that has disproportionately disenfranchised low-income and minority voters.
“Communities that are disproportionately affected by unnecessarily harsh registration laws should not tolerate efforts to marginalize their influence in the political process, nor should allies who recognize blatant unfairness stand idly by,” Sotomayor said.
Since 2011, Ohio has purged more than two million voters from its rolls and Black voters are more likely to be purged than White voters.
African-American neighborhoods in downtown Cincinnati had 10 percent of their voters purged due to inactivity since 2012 while only 4 percent of voters in majority White suburban neighborhoods were removed.
Voting advocates believe the Ohio ruling may prompt Republicans in North Carolina to pass additional voting laws that will disenfranchise low-income and minority voters.
Last week, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R) introduced a bill to amend the state’s constitution to require photo identification to vote in future elections.
“This latest proposal by Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly isn’t about protecting our elections,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), a member of the CBC. “It is about suppressing the vote.”
Another bill introduced into the state’s General Assembly would eliminate early voting on the last Saturday before Election Day. In 2016, African-American voters made up 29 percent of the nearly 200,000 ballots cast in North Carolina on the last Saturday before the election.