In 2015, Larry Harmon, a 59-year-old software engineer and Navy vet, went to the polls 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. From 2011 to 2016, Ohio purged 2 million voters from the rolls—1.2 million for infrequent voting—more than any other state.
Harmon challenged Ohio’s voter purge in court, with the assistance of groups like Demos and the ACLU of Ohio, and in September 2016, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in his favor, finding that Ohio’s removal of “infrequent” voters violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which says voter-roll maintenance “shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote.” As a result, 7,500 people who would have otherwise been purged were able to vote in the 2016 election, including Harmon, according to Secretary of State Jon Husted.
Ohio appealed to the Supreme Court and today, to the dismay of voting-rights activists, the Supreme Court decided to hear the case next term. If the Court reverses the Sixth Circuit and rules in favor of Ohio, it could make it easier for states to purge the voting rolls in inaccurate and discriminatory ways. (Fifteen Republican-controlled states, including Kris Kobach’s Kansas, filed an amicus brief supporting Ohio’s position.) This will be the first major voting-rights case heard since Neil Gorsuch took the bench, reviving the Court’s 5-4 conservative majority.