Supreme Court Just Made It A Hell Of A Lot Easier For Trump To Win Ohio In 2020
Federal law bans states from purging registered voters from voting rolls simply because they fail to vote. So Republicans who hold full control of Ohio’s statehouse decided they’d try out a loophole: if someone doesn’t vote, instead of getting thrown off the rolls, they get a letter in the mail, and if they don’t respond to that, they’re off. In that way they’re technically not getting thrown off for not voting, they’re getting thrown off for not responding to a letter in the mail.
And they passed that into law, fully expecting a challenge, just to see if it would stick. And boy did it ever…
Key to the 5–4 Supreme Court ruling (*usual suspects*) is an assumption that if somebody gets something in the mail from the government and does not respond to it, it probably means they’ve moved. In the majority opinion, Justice Alito writes: “Ohio removes the registrants at issue on a permissible ground: change of residence”. And that the National Voter Registration Act “specifically allows states to remove a voter who has ‘failed to respond to a notice’”.
We can just see the smile creeping across Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s face. It’s all been worth it. And halfway around the world, the significance of the ruling was not lost on the President:
Several other states already have similar voter purge laws, though none as restrictive as Ohio, probably because they didn’t think they could get away with it. Ohio’s process is triggered after a registered voter misses a single federal election; they then have 4 years after that to comply. Now that the Supreme Court says that’s kosher, expect many of those other states to tighten up too.
But since this ruling theoretically applies equally to all voters regardless of party affiliation, why is this even an issue? Because according to the New York Times, a Reuters study found “voters have been struck from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods at roughly twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods.” (For reference, Trump won Ohio by about 450,000 votes.)
There is a legit issue with the fact that state election boards are notoriously bad at getting people who have moved or died off their voter rolls. But this ruling potentially puts even more of an onus on those underfunded and understaffed state boards, which also have a huge added burden of policing against hacking these days. We can easily envision a situation where the mailings are not distributed or tabulated properly.
And as Justice Breyer points out in his dissent, not replying to a letter could easily reflect “the human tendency not to send back cards received in the mail”.
What to do about it? There’s about only one thing: flip some State Houses and/or State Legislatures — especially in traditional swing states — back to Democratic control. That’s the only way these onerous laws will possibly be reversed. Which is now going to be even harder to do, with more Democratic voters potentially disenfranchised. Still, Democrats largely dug this hole for themselves by neglecting state and local contests, while Republicans invested huge amounts of time and money and effort to create the current situation. So Democrats will now have to work extra hard to start digging out.