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Ohio Voter Purge Will Remove Thousands Of Registrations

Ohio I Voted Stickers
John Minchillo
Associated Press

Tens, and maybe hundreds, of thousands of Ohio voter registrations identified as inactive will be deleted Friday by local boards of elections.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose said state law requires voter roll maintenance, but voting rights groups say they’re still worried eligible voters will be "purged" by mistake.

Aaron Ockerman, the executive director of the bipartisan Ohio Association of Elections Officials, explains why voters are being purged. 

“There are people who are on our rolls who we’ve not been able to get a hold of for about the past six years, have not registered any activity with the board of elections," Ockerman said. "We’re going to be removing those folks from the rolls per state law.”

A reminder: Ohio’s removal process involves a voter not casting a ballot for two years, and then not responding to mailings from the board of elections, and not voting for four years after that.

The process has been conducted this way since 1994, and though activists say it’s antiquated and called it one of the most aggressive voter removal systems in the country, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the process last year.

This summer, the state’s 88 county boards of elections turned in a list of 235,000 registrations targeted for removal to LaRose. Last month, LaRose said the list is mostly deceased voters and duplicate registrations from people who’ve moved, so it’s full of bad data that must be removed before it causes problems.

“That is the responsibility that’s laid out I the law," LaRose said. "It’s very clear. It’s not discretionary. It's not up to me whether I choose to do this or not. It's required."

LaRose shared the list with voting rights groups including the League of Women Voters of Ohio and All Voting is Local, which worked to find those voters to get them to update their registrations. At least 10,000 voters were able to update their registration and won’t be removed.

However, the groups found mistakes – voters who were targeted for removal but who weren’t inactive. That led the Ohio Democratic Party to file a lawsuit to stop the process.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Ohio Democratic Party failed to prove its claim that thousands of eligible voters were on the list because of mistakes involving vendors.

State Democratic Party chair David Pepper said there was no further legal action to stop the process from going forward, but maintains that a certain percentage of those purged will be wrongly removed.

“Someone asked me on a call today, well, 'What’s the margin of error that’s acceptable in this purging?' And I said, this isn’t a poll. This is voting. You should not ever be limiting people from the rolls by government error,” Pepper said.

LaRose maintains he’s bound by state law to complete the process. His office has been critical of the lawsuit, but wouldn’t comment on tape, and won’t say how many registrations will be deleted today – other than saying it will be less than 235,000. A spokesman promised to have that number later.

Ockerman said if voters are mistakenly removed, they could re-register before the deadline on October 7 or they can vote via provisional ballot in November. That ballot will then be used to update their registration in the voter roll database.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that the activity status of almost 21,000 voters in Franklin County was misidentified in the statewide voter database. However, those registrations were not among the 235,000 on the "purge" list compiled earlier this summer, from which registrations will be removed today. Voting rights advocates say it shows there are still serious problems in the system.