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Justices to hear Ohio voter-purge case

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider giving states more freedom to rid their voter rolls of people who haven’t cast ballots in a while.

Agreeing to hear an appeal by Ohio, the justices said they’ll consider reinstating a purging technique used by the state before a federal appeals court barred the practice. The appeals court ruling let some 7,500 state residents cast ballots in the 2016 election, even though they’d previously been removed from the list of eligible voters.

Under the disputed procedure, Ohio mailed notices to people who hadn’t voted in two years, asking them to confirm that they still lived at that address. If someone didn’t respond and then didn’t vote during the next four years, the state would remove the person.

The appeals court said the approach violated the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which says eligible people can’t be removed because they didn’t vote.

Ohio argues that it wasn’t removing people because they hadn’t voted, but was simply trying to identify people who had moved. The state has a separate procedure for removing people who file change-of-address forms with the U.S. Post Office.

Civil rights groups challenged the practice last year in a lawsuit against Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.

They urged the court not to hear the case, arguing that only five other states had procedures similar enough to Ohio’s that they might be affected by a Supreme Court ruling. Ohio says the issue has broader implications, pointing to a brief filed in support of the appeal by 15 other states.

Freda Levenson, Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio, said purging voters simply because they have exercised their right not to vote is a form of voter suppression.

“We are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the correct decision from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, and will ultimately ensure that eligible Ohio voters may not be stricken from the rolls,” she said.

Husted said that maintaining the integrity of the voter rolls is essential to fair, efficient elections. He said he was encouraged that the high court was taking up the case.

“I remain confident that once the justices review this case they will rule to uphold the decades-old process that both Republicans and Democrats have used in Ohio to maintain our voter rolls as consistent with federal law,” he said in a statement.

The court will hear arguments and rule in the nine-month term that starts in October.

The case is Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, 16-980.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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