New Ohio Settlement Extends Provisional Voting for Inactive Voters Through 2022

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A new legal settlement in Ohio will give inactive voters the opportunity to cast provisional ballots and reactivate their registrations through 2022. Cleveland.com has more:

Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans purged from voting rolls for inactivity between 2011 and this year will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot in any election through 2022, under a lawsuit settlement announced Thursday between Secretary of State Frank LaRose and voting-rights activists.

The settlement is a win for liberal critics of the controversial voter purges, who claim Republican officials are making it harder for Ohioans – particularly poorer and minority residents – to participate in elections.

However, the agreement does not affect LaRose’s plans to remove up to 235,000 additional voters from the state’s list of registered voters because they haven’t voted in the past six years (though it does clear the way for those newly purged voters to vote provisionally through 2022).

In Ohio, residents who don’t cast a ballot for two years are mailed a “confirmation notice” by the state. If a voter doesn’t respond to the notice for four years after that and doesn’t vote, he or she is automatically removed from the state’s list of registered voters (and therefore must re-register to vote again).

The settlement is the latest development in a long-running dispute over the state’s voters list maintenance policies which has reached the nation’s highest court:

Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the purges themselves are legal, voting-rights groups have sued the state on another ground: that warning notifications sent to inactive voters between 2007 and 2015 were illegal because they didn’t include federally required information such as the specific deadline for people to respond in order to remain registered voters.

Thursday’s agreement, announced by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (whose lawyers have been litigating the case) covers only the second issue — the one over the defective cards.

The provisional ballot settlement continues a policy that’s been in use for the last two federal elections:

Federal courts previously ordered that voters in line to be purged could cast provisional ballots in the 2016 and 2018 elections under the “APRI exception,” named for the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, one of the groups that was seeking to overturn Ohio’s voter purge policy. The other plaintiffs include the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Ohio resident Larry Harmon.

The new settlement between LaRose and these groups extends this policy, ensuring that those voters can continue to cast provisional ballots until after the 2022 midterm elections.

“The reforms guaranteed by this settlement will go a long way in protecting Ohio voters’ right to exercise their voice in the political process,” said Freda Levenson, the ACLU of Ohio’s legal director, in a statement. “Today’s settlement will not only prevent substantial numbers of eligible voters from being disenfranchised at the polls, it will also promote democracy by guaranteeing that qualified voters are given additional opportunities to register.”

In a statement, LaRose, a Hudson Republican, said, “This case has loomed over our election system for far too long, and its settlement is a win for Ohio voters.”

LaRose continued: “With this matter now behind us, we can work to modernize our voter registration system so we can run the more secure, accurate and fair elections that all Ohioans deserve.”

Not surprisingly (because Ohio), the fight isn’t over – it’s just shifting focus again:

The next chapter in the years-long fight over voting-roll purges will take place next week, when LaRose is planning to conduct a new round of purges. Activists say about 4,000 voters are wrongly included on the purge list, though LaRose said that data is misleading and sloppily researched.

The battle over purges has generally broken down on partisan lines: Republicans have defended the purges as necessary to preserve the integrity of Ohio’s elections, while Democrats claim it’s a ploy to disenfranchise voters in blue-leaning areas.

The battle over how to handle inactive voters – specifically, whether and how to remove them from the rolls – has been raging in Ohio for years. This latest settlement gives those voters at least two more federal election cycles to show up and rejoin the rolls, even as the fight rages on over what happens if they don’t.

As is usually the case in the Buckeye State, this one is far from over. Have a great Labor Day weekend and stay tuned …

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