County boards of elections mailed last-chance notices to 235,610 Ohioans on Monday who are at risk of being purged from state voter rolls.

In June, Secretary of State Frank LaRose sent a directive to all 88 county boards of elections to notify them that they must submit a list of inactive voters to his office by mid-July and send notices to those voters that their registration could be canceled Sept. 6.

LaRose said Monday at the Ohio State Fair that he expects "in the next day or so" to distribute the list of affected voters to community groups and individuals who have asked for it as part of an effort to find voters and encourage them to re-register. That list includes duplicate registrations, deceased voters and people who have moved out of state, he said.

"A large majority of (them) really do need to be removed but we want to try to find everyone that we can," he said.

To avoid being removed from the rolls, voters can either respond to the mailed last-chance notice or update their voter information at vote.ohio.gov. Voters also can check there whether their registration information is up to date; if not, they should update it to remain on the rolls. If they miss the Sept. 6 deadline, they can re-register.

The U.S. Supreme Court last summer upheld Ohio law that requires elections officials to remove voters from the rolls if they have not voted during a six-year span nor responded to the mailed last-chance notice.

The purge scheduled for Sept. 6 will be the second since that decision. Local boards of elections sent 276,200 last-chance notices to voters who could be removed in January under a directive from then Secretary of State Jon Husted, now the lieutenant governor.

Husted did not require local boards to submit their lists of voters to his office. LaRose changed that under his June directive to create what he has called the "Registration Reset List."

Community groups, such as the League of Women Voters, and individuals, including several clergy members, have requested the list.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who carried out purges as secretary of state in the 1980s, said in a news release Monday that the latest voter purge would disproportionately affect low-income families, minorities and students in Ohio. A federal bill he introduced in February would make it illegal for a state to use “failure to vote or respond to a state notice as reason to target” voters for removal.

State Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland, sent LaRose a letter Monday urging him to cancel the voter purge, calling it a "surprise" and raising concerns about the effectiveness of the last-chance notices and the amount of time and resources available for community groups to reach affected voters.

“State law is very clear about what we’re required to do,” LaRose said. “It’s important we keep our voter list up to date. What I wanted to do was make sure that we’re making absolutely every effort possible to only remove the ones that are required to be removed.”

LaRose, a first-year Republican and former Ohio senator, has been working with legislators to write a bill that would “modernize” Ohio’s voter registration process to give voters more of a chance to keep their registrations up to date. He had hoped to see that legislation introduced this summer, but a delay in passing a two-year state budget took priority in the General Assembly.

LaRose called the state’s existing system “antiquated” and too reliant on paper and manual data entry. He wants Ohioans eventually to be able to register to vote or update their information whenever they interact with a state agency.

That would start with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, where LaRose envisions people who are renewing their drivers license or obtaining a state identification card to simultaneously update their registration.

“Right then and there when you’re standing at the counter, let’s update your address. Let’s get you registered to vote if you’re not already registered,” he said. “That way we can make it easier for people to stay involved in our elections and also at the same time prevent fraud by having the most up to date information in the list.”

In the future, that could be extended to a checkbox on tax forms or a similar process for those getting a fishing or hunting license.

“The goal is that eventually we can create many more opportunities for people to update their information and get registered,” he said.

 

rrouan@dispatch.com