By Peter H. Milliken
Two state representatives, a city councilman and a county commissioner on Friday celebrated a federal court decision that declared illegal the state’s method of purging people from voter rolls.
State Reps. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, and Kathleen Clyde, of Kent, D-75th; Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, and Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti conducted a news conference outside St. Brendan Church, a polling place on the city’s West Side.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled last month that Ohio’s method of removing inactive voters from the rolls violated federal election law.
“Ohio voters recently won a very historic victory in court,” Clyde said.
“The greatest thing we can do in our democracy is vote; and it’s our way of telling our elected officials how we feel; and to take that away from us is just really wrong,” Lepore-Hagan said.
“You shouldn’t lose your voting because you didn’t use it,” Ray said, referring to deletion of inactive voters from the rolls.
During the past five years, nearly 2 million voters have been removed from Ohio’s rolls, more than in any other state, Clyde said. That includes more than 29,000 in Mahoning County, 20,000 in Trumbull County and 13,000 in Columbiana County, she added.
“They’re solving a problem that doesn’t exist,” by removing infrequent voters from the rolls, Ray said. “The problem that exists is people not voting. That’s what we should be tackling.”
“Two of the top 10 precincts [in Mahoning County] that were purged vote right here,” Ray said of St. Brendan Church.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who is the state’s chief elections official, initially said the court decision might be appealed.
His press secretary, Joshua Eck, said Husted hasn’t appealed.
“The appellate court did not issue a remedy, so, until we know exactly what the court wants changed, we won’t know if an appeal is necessary,” Eck said.
In the past, elections officials have sent postcards to voters who have moved or haven’t voted for two years to confirm their residency and voting status.
Those who didn’t respond or vote in the next two even-year elections were removed from the rolls.
Federal and state law require removal from the rolls of voters who move or die, and this purging process has been carried out in the same way for more than 20 years under both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state, Eck said.
“That’s an exaggeration. Husted has taken this purging to a new level,” Clyde countered. “Husted’s office directs the county boards to do the purging,” she explained.
The voter registration deadline for the Nov. 8 election is Tuesday, and early voting starts Wednesday.
The group conducting the news conference here urged people to check their registration status and make sure they’re registered before the deadline.
“No voter is ever turned away in Ohio,” Eck said.
Voters who can’t be found in a precinct’s pollbook are issued provisional ballots, so the legitimacy of their votes can be checked before the ballot is counted or not counted, he added.
Clyde urged those who show up to vote and find that their names have been purged from the rolls to insist on being allowed to vote with a provisional ballot, and she said that ballot should be counted.