The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether Ohio’s secretary of state has acted lawfully in removing hundreds of thousands of names from the state’s voter registry.

Supreme Court justices agreed Tuesday morning to hear Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. In determining whether Secretary of State Jon Husted has been overzealous in his duty to maintain the voting rolls, state and federal courts have given differing opinions, setting the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in sometime after the next session begins in October.

Since Husted took office in 2011, the names of more than 2 million inactive voters believed to have moved or died have been struck from the state’s voter database. Husted has said this “supplemental process” ensures accuracy and integrity in Ohio’s elections by keeping the voter rolls clean of ineligible and duplicative names.

The A. Philip Randolph Institute, which represents African-American trade union workers, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Ohioan Larry Harmon filed the suit against Husted more than a year ago. Their complaint argues that Husted’s actions “violate the roll-maintenance provisions of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 … and have caused, and continue to cause, eligible Ohio citizens to be deprived of the fundamental right to vote.”

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday morning to hear the case, Husted issued the following statement: “Maintaining the integrity of the voter rolls is essential to conducting an election with efficiency and integrity. The decision by the Court to hear this case is encouraging. 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.”

Candidate for governor

Husted is reaching the end of his second term as the state’s elections chief and will run for Ohio governor in 2018.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said he also looks forward to the Supreme Court hearing the case, though he hopes for a much different conclusion.

“In case after case, Jon Husted and [Ohio Attorney General] Mike DeWine have worked to make it harder for Ohioans to vote, and under Husted’s supervision, the state purged hundreds of thousands of lawfully registered voters from the rolls. The Ohio Democratic Party weighed in last fall with an amicus brief with the federal district court, asking for illegally purged voters to be reinstated to the rolls immediately and permitted to vote. Husted dragged his feet, finally taking action only after a court ordered him to restore these voters’ rights.”

Motor voter law

In Husted’s application of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also called the “motor voter law,” voters who do not exercise their democratic franchise in a two-year period, or one federal election cycle, are sent a post card reminding them to participate. Anyone thought to have moved also is asked to update their information. If they do not vote, contact a county board of elections or in any other way indicate they are still voting, Husted’s office begins the process of de-registering them in four years.

Husted said the process has resulted in more than 1.5 million registered voters being asked to update their registration information and more than 1.65 million idle but eligible voters asked to participate. More than a half million removed from the rolls are deceased, he said.

Whether the rest have actually moved out of state or are just waiting for the right election to interest them is debatable.

In a review of dozens of local names removed from the state’s voter rolls, the Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com found most have moved away, often with neighbors saying they’ve left the state. Some voters, however, said they chose not to vote in a few presidential elections only to discover they were ineligible to vote in the 2016 election.

Early in the case, plaintiffs unsuccessfully asked an Ohio judge to order Husted to restore the voting status of all names purged and count the provisional ballots they might have cast. Six weeks before the 2016 election, the federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati granted that request, ordering Husted to comply and sending the case back to the lower court.

“Ohio’s illegal purge process has no basis in state or federal law,” said Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Kent Democrat running for secretary of state in 2018. “It targets low-income voters and communities of color. The Supreme Court should affirm the reasoned opinion of the 6th Circuit, which held that purging hundreds of thousands of infrequent Ohio voters violated the National Voter Registration Act.”

A U.S. Elections Assistance Commission report found that between 2011 and 2014, 846,391 voters were removed for infrequent voting.

Ohio Sen. Frank LaRose, a Hudson Republican also seeking to replace Husted, noted that it’s “easier than ever” to register and remain an active voter with online registration.

The supplemental process is “the same procedure [that] has been carried out by both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state with relatively no controversy until now,” LaRose said. “What I would say is Secretary Husted is faithfully carrying out what the law says.”

LaRose, a student of election law, will watch closely as Supreme Court justices weighs the merits of Ohio’s elections laws, how Husted implements them and what the U.S. Constitution says.

“I guess that there’s always a question of how aggressively do you pursue the law you are required to execute,” LaRose said. “You have to balance that against convenience and access.”

Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug .