The Ohio Purge

Ohio has a practice of removing voters from the registration rolls if they have not voted in recent years under a procedure called the “Supplemental Process.” Under this process, Ohio counties initiate a removal procedure targeted at any voter who has failed to vote in a two-year period. Ohio assumes that anyone who has not voted in a two-year period may have moved and, therefore, become ineligible to vote.  Based on that questionable assumption, Ohio targets these voters with a mailing requiring them to confirm that they are still eligible to vote.  If the voter does not respond to the mailing or vote in the subsequent four-year period, the voter’s name is stripped from the registration rolls.

In 2015, hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters who had last voted in 2008 were removed from the voter registration rolls, with over 40,000 purged in Cuyahoga County alone. Many of these voters—as well as voters who had been purged under Ohio’s Supplemental Process in previous years—went to the polls in November 2015 and March 2016 only to learn that their names no longer appeared on the rolls, and were denied their fundamental right to vote.

As displayed by the experiences of these voters, failure to vote is simply not a reliable indicator that a voter has moved. Many voters face obstacles to voting that may impact their ability to make it to the polls to vote. For example:

  • Hourly and wage workers, as well as individuals with familial obligations and caregivers may not be able to make it to vote during the limited days and hours available; and
  • Individuals experiencing temporary or permanent disabilities or illnesses may not be able to make it to the polls to vote.

Further, individuals often elect not to vote if they are not particularly motivated by the candidates or issues on the ballot; and many voters only vote in presidential elections, every four years. As a result, many Ohio voters get caught up in the state’s purge practice time and time again – finding themselves under constant threat of being removed from the voter rolls. And, under Ohio’s Supplemental Process, a voter who sits out a single presidential election cycle is in danger of being purged from the rolls, even if nothing about their eligibility to vote has changed.