Ohio will purge more than 200,000 voters — from a list riddled with errors

Journalists and voting rights groups have identified numerous errors, but the GOP secretary of state will go ahead

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published September 9, 2019 5:00AM (EDT)

Voters in Ohio, 2015. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Voters in Ohio, 2015. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Ohio is set to purge nearly a quarter-million people from its voter rolls Friday despite journalists and voting rights groups finding repeated mistakes on the state’s list.

Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose published a list in August targeting 235,000 voters the state says are inactive, meaning voters who have not voted for the past six years that the state was unable to contact.

The list of voters was fraught with errors. The secretary of state’s office announced hundreds of changes to the list almost immediately. Two weeks later, voting rights groups discovered that 4,000 people had been erroneously added to the list, the Columbus Dispatch reported. The paper reported days later that another 1,600 people had been incorrectly added to the list because of an error by a software vendor.

The list also included thousands of people who were apparently unaware they had bee targeted for removal, even though the state is required to attempt to contact them. More than 11,800 people included on the list have updated their voter registrations so they won’t be canceled, HuffPost reported. 

Ohio removes people from the rolls if the state suspects they have moved or died. The list includes people who have not responded to an address confirmation mailing and people who have not voted or participated in any board of elections activity for six years. But voting rights groups say the purge lists are filled with errors that could disenfranchise thousands of legitimate voters. Ohio has already purged 265,000 voter registrations this year, and at least 17 million people have been purged from voter rolls around the country since the 2016 election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The Ohio Democratic Party sued to try to stop the state from carrying out the purge, citing the repeated errors on the list. LaRose’s office argued that the errors had been fixed and that the office was taking additional steps to contact people on the list. A federal judge on Tuesday rejected the Democrats’ lawsuit seeking to halt the purge, despite acknowledging problems with past purges. The Supreme Court last year ruled that Ohio’s “supplemental process” that targets voters it suspects have moved or died was legal despite putting eligible voters at risk.

“As we prepare to finalize this process, we’re confident that there has never been a more intensive review of Ohio’s voting rolls, and we’re satisfied that the proper safeguards are in place to ensure any eligible voter will have the opportunity to have their voice heard,” LaRose spokeswoman Maggie Sheehan said in a statement to HuffPost. 

But Democrats say that the dubious process all but guarantees that eligible voters will be removed.

“Someone asked me on a call today, 'Well, what’s the margin of error that’s acceptable in this purging?' And I said, this isn’t a poll. This is voting. You should not ever be limiting people from the rolls by government error,” Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper told WOSU.

The party’s executive director, Greg Beswick, told Cleveland.com that it was “disturbing” that LaRose planned to go forward with the purge despite admitting to “errors that resulted in thousands of Ohio voters being improperly … and unlawfully flagged to be removed from the rolls.”

“The specter that any active voters are purged due to government error, and no fault of their own, is unacceptable,” he added.

With no legal recourse left, voting rights groups like All Voting is Local are scrambling to contact as many people as possible to encourage them to update their registrations.

“Thousands of voters at risk of being purged have already alerted the state that they are still very much alive and wish to vote,” Mick Brickner, the group’s Ohio state director, said in a statement. “This shows how deeply broken the purge process is and the need for voter registration modernization now.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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