Larry Harmon, a 59-year-old software engineer and Navy vet, went the polls in 2015 in his hometown of Kent, Ohio, to vote on a state ballot initiative. But poll workers told him he was no longer registered and could not vote.
“I felt embarrassed and stupid at the time,” Harmon told Reuters. “The more I think about it, the madder I am,” he said.
Harmon voted for Barack Obama in 2008 but had not returned to vote until 2015. He later learned that he was purged from the rolls in Ohio for “infrequent voting” because he had not voted in a six-year period, even though he hadn’t moved or done anything to change his registration status. The same thing is now happening to tens of thousands of voters across the state. The fear is that voters who cast ballots in 2008 but have not participated since, particularly first-time voters for Obama, will show up in 2016 to find that they are no longer registered. Ohio has purged more voters over a 5-year period than any other state.
At least 144,000 voters in Ohio’s three largest counties, home to Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, were purged since the 2012 election, with voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods twice as likely to be removed as those in Republican-leaning ones, according to a Reuters analysis by Andy Sullivan and Grant Smith. That includes 40,000 voters purged in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, where the GOP convention is taking place this week. These cities are heavily Democratic, with large minority populations, and there’s a clear partisan and racial disparity to the state’s voter purge.
According to Reuters:
In Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, 5 percent of voters in neighborhoods that backed Obama by more than 60 percent in 2012 were purged last year due to inactivity, according to the Reuters analysis of the voter lists. In neighborhoods where Obama got less than 40 percent of the vote, 2.5 percent of registered voters were removed for that reason.
In Franklin County, home to the state capital Columbus, 11 percent of voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods have been purged since 2012 due to inactivity. Only 6 percent of voters in Republican-leaning neighborhoods have been purged.
The disparity is especially stark in Hamilton County, where affluent Republican suburbs ring Cincinnati, which has one of the highest child-poverty rates in the country.
In the heavily African-American neighborhoods near downtown, more than 10 percent of registered voters have been removed due to inactivity since 2012. In suburban Indian Hill, only 4 percent have been purged due to inactivity.