Frank LaRose did the right thing in creating a searchable database of the 236,000 voters who could be removed from the registration list early next month. As a result, the secretary of state opened the door to the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and other groups making an effort to contact voters so they could take steps to maintain their active status. Now those groups have raised significant concerns. They report their search has turned up nearly 4,000 voters who also are listed among the state’s active voters.
So, these voters are set to be purged as part of the controversial “supplemental process” and the state deems them active. They cannot be both.
The organizations want the secretary to delay the purge, scheduled for Sept. 6. They add they have discovered some 17,500 voters on the removal list who voted somewhere last year. The secretary has cited his legal duty to proceed, federal law mandating the maintenance of clean voter rolls as part of ensuring the integrity of elections. He has a point. At the same time, the law hardly condones removing active voters from the rolls.
Jen Miller, the executive director of the League of Women Voters, wasn’t overstating matters when she warned last week, “We are concerned that this process is actually making our list less accurate.” Her worry fits with the secretary’s own words on Thursday as he began reaching out to eligible voters who have not registered. “Voting is one of our fundamental rights as Americans,” he said, “and we want every eligible voter to have the chance to exercise that right.”
Arguably, it would be a far greater transgression to remove an active voter than delay the removal of inactive voters who failed to respond to state mailings designed to confirm their voter registrations. At the least, the secretary and his team have reason to sit down with the organizations to learn what they have found.
LaRose rightly has pointed out that approval from the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t mean this supplemental process is smart policy. That explains his database, or Registration Reset List, plus his earlier “Fresh Start” campaign, sending postcards and registration forms to voters whose registrations were canceled in an earlier purge. Put another way, the system is flawed, and it requires extra steps to prevent mistakes.
Most of those removed from the rolls are deceased or they have moved to another state. Their removal involves proper maintenance. The difficulty goes to how best to conduct the cleanup. There is a case for giving the inactive voter more time, triggering the process, say, after four years, not the current two, or allowing more time to respond to the state notice, combined with more aggressive outreach, including a persistent public information campaign.
Or better yet, frame the concerns raised by the organizations searching the database for what they are — a call for an automatic system to confirm voter registrations. LaRose backs such a step, and the Hudson Republican has bipartisan support at the Statehouse. He proposes that when registered voters come into contact with state government, for instance, by paying taxes, their voter registrations would be updated. Voters would avoid having to respond to mailings or thinking they are registered when they actually have been removed.
Gov. Mike DeWine would help if he added his clout to the cause. So would the legislative leadership. The 2020 presidential election is coming. Let’s not have another squabble over the purge. That is the lesson in what the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and others have found. Ohio can make it much easier to maintain accurate voter rolls.