Joseph Helle was excited to vote in his small Ohio town near Lake Erie upon his return home from Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was both surprised and disappointed, however, when he turned up in the voting area.
Helle’s name was missing from the voting rolls in 2011, even though he is claiming that he made sure to register to vote before leaving home at 18 and had not even changed his home, permanent address during his military service.
That same guy whose name was missing in the 2011 voters’ list is no less than the mayor of Oak Harbor, Ohio now. He is just one of the thousands of state residents with stories of being removed from Ohio’s voters’ list simply because they failed to vote in some elections.
A case has been filed regarding the experiences of the disenfranchised lot. The Supreme Court is scheduled, in fact, to hear arguments on January 10 in the said disputed practice, which generally see Republicans and Democrats pitted against each other.
The case has become more crucial now since the parties have also squared off over ballot access across the country. Both parties have traded accusations against the other. Democrats have claimed that Republicans were trying to suppress votes from minorities and poorer people who are more inclined to vote for the Democrats. The Republicans insisted, however, that they are, in fact, trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud.
Only a few states follow a system similar to that of Ohio’s. Making things more interesting is that the Trump administration reversed the position taken by the previous Obama government, and is now backing Ohio’s system for purging voters.
Ohio has used voters’ inactivity to justify the removal process since 1994, although groups representing voters only sued in 2016. As part of the lawsuit, a judge ordered last year to count 7,515 ballots cast by people who have been removed from the voters' rolls.
A federal appeals court ruled 2-1 last year that Ohio’s process is illegal. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in May.
Helle’s basic argument along with other Democrats is that casting a ballot is a voter’s choice, and they should not be penalized if they opted not to.
The Trump administration is siding with Ohio since there’s a process being followed in removing inactive voters from the list, and that doing so complies with the federal law. They argued that voters are first sent out a notice, and are only removed after they failed to respond to the notice and vote in the elections that follow the notice.
A decision to the case is expected by June this year.