Civil rights leaders slam court’s decision on voter suppression

Published in Wisconsin Gazette on

he Supreme Court dealt a blow to the fight against voter suppression upholding Ohio’s purging of voters who didn't vote.

The U.S. Supreme Court June 11 dealt a blow to the fight against voter suppression in a 5-4 ruling upholding Ohio’s aggressive practice of purging voters who didn’t vote and re-register.

The case — Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, et al. — was a challenge to one of the practices that Ohio uses for removing voters from its registration lists: Election boards mail notices to registered voters who have not voted in two years, asking them to confirm that they are still eligible to vote. If a voter fails to return the notice, the voter’s registration is cancelled.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, issued the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision:  

“Five justices on the Supreme Court today undermined the fundamental right to vote by making it easier for states to suppress the vote. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires states to maintain accurate voter rolls but also to ensure that voters are not improperly purged.

“Until the current presidential administration, three different administrations from both political parties enforced the law by fighting efforts to remove voters if they chose not to vote. Voting has never been a ‘use it or lose it’ right.

“Today’s decision contradicts the text and purpose of the NVRA, and, as Justice Sotomayor noted in her dissent, ‘entirely ignores the history of voter suppression against which the NVRA was enacted.’ This decision will allow states to obstruct countless eligible voters from participating in our country’s electoral system and may encourage other states to follow suit with restrictive voting practices. Congress must act now to overturn this decision so that this type of voter purging is prohibited. We should make it easier, not more difficult, for citizens to exercise their right to vote.”

More reaction

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: “The Court’s 5-4 ruling ignores the long and discriminatory history of purge programs in our country, which have been repeatedly used at the state and local levels to unfairly and disproportionately target minority voters. As Justice Sotomayor aptly observes, today’s decision forces minority communities to be ‘even more proactive and vigilant in holding their states accountable and working to dismantle the obstacles they face in exercising the fundamental right to vote.’”

Morris Pearl of Patriotic Millionaires: “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is not just a mistake, it is the latest blow in a war over the fate of our democracy. On one side, the people. On the other, the conservative officials and wealthy oligarchs who want more money in politics and less voting. This decision does not make our elections safer or fairer, it just makes it harder for lawmakers to be held accountable by their constituents. At a time when public trust in government has never been lower, we need to make it easier, not harder, for people to vote.”

Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause: “Every American deserves the chance to make their voice heard in our elections without fear of election officials targeting them because of their voting history. Regardless of how the Court dressed up today’s ruling, the narrow majority just took another hostile step against the right to vote. The laws in most states are more protective of infrequent voters than the one the Court approved in Ohio. Still, many partisan officials are doubtless already studying this decision as a blueprint for disenfranchising political opponents. And we are prepared to fight back against further erosions to the right to vote.”

John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice/AAJC: “This decision is extremely disappointing. Today the Supreme Court sanctioned voter-suppression efforts that disproportionately harm our communities. But we will continue to fight against discriminatory practices that try to keep Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from exercising their right for access to the ballot box.”

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund: “Today’s decision upholding Ohio’s aggressive voter-purge process was a loss for our democracy. As a nation, we should be working to make voting more, not less, accessible to the nation’s second largest population group, and to all qualified U.S. citizens.”

Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF: “At a time when much of the country doubts the efficacy of government, we must insist on methods that increase voter participation and civic engagement. Today’s decision in Husted does the opposite. The main goal of the National Voter Registration Act — which placed an affirmative obligation on government to register voters for the first time in our history — is to increase the franchise. We stand with our colleagues who are ready to stop any other state from illegally cancelling out Latino voting strength.”