In Key Swing State of Ohio, Thousands of Voters' Rights Restored With Weeks to Go

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In Key Swing State of Ohio, Thousands of Voters' Rights Restored With Weeks to Go

Ruling celebrated as 'certainly a victory—albeit a partial one—for Ohio voters who were illegally purged by Secretary of State Jon Husted'

Thanks to Wednesday's ruling, eligible Ohio voters who have been removed from the rolls will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 election. (Photo: Howard Jefferson/flickr/cc)

An Ohio judge on Wednesday night restored thousands of voters' rights, in a decision praised as a victory—"albeit a partial one"—for the scores that had been illegally purged from the state's rolls. 

In his 22-page decision (pdf), Judge George C. Smith of the U.S. District Court in Columbus "acknowledged that his attempt to remedy what he said was Secretary of State Jon Husted's illegal purging...will leave some eligible voters on the sidelines," the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Husted's purge of the voter rolls in a crucial swing state was said to be the most aggressive in the nation, impacting tens of thousands of voters over a five-year period. As The Nation's Ari Berman explained in September: "The purge works like this: If a voter misses an election, Ohio sends them a letter making sure their address is still current. If the voter doesn't respond, Ohio puts them on an inactive list, and if the voter doesn't vote in the next two elections they are removed from the rolls."

By some estimates, this process resulted in more than two million voters being removed from state rolls since 2011—and 1.2 million of those were dubbed "questionable" by state representative Kathleen Clyde, an Ohio Democrat who led opposition to the purge. A Reuters investigation in June showed that "neighborhoods that have a high proportion of poor, African-American residents" were "hit hardest" by the practice.

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Now, thanks to Wednesday's ruling, unregistered Ohio voters who have been removed from the rolls will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 election.

"If the voter was not deceased or incarcerated and still lives in the county where originally registered, the voter is assumed to have been purged for inactivity and the ballot will be counted," according to Cleveland.com, which notes that the decision "comes one week into Ohio's early voting period."

Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper described the ruling as "certainly a victory—albeit a partial one—for Ohio voters who were illegally purged by Secretary of State Jon Husted."

And Mike Brickner, senior policy director for the ACLU of Ohio, which brought the lawsuit along with the state Democratic Party and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute for African-American trade unionists, also approved. "Our biggest concern was to make sure that voters who were illegally purged from the voter rolls will be able to cast their ballots in November and we believe this ruling largely resolves that," Brickner said.

But, he told ThinkProgress that with less than 20 days until November 8, it was "imperative that election officials and voters have clarity on this ASAP."

"People may just been realizing now that they've been illegally purged," Brickner said. "We need the information to get out as quickly as possible."

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