COLUMBUS — A federal judge rejected a voting rights group's latest arguments Wednesday that voters were illegally purged from Ohio's voting rolls.
U.S. District Judge George C. Smith largely sided with the state's arguments defending confirmation notices sent to voters that set off a removal process tied to failure to participate in the election process, in another blow to the A. Phillip Randolph Institute.
The institute's broader argument that Ohio's election administration process was unconstitutional lost in the U.S. Supreme Court in June, but the group continued to contest the legality of the notices.
Acknowledging the effort may have been "an end run around the Supreme Court's decision and a final attempt to have the previously removed voters reinstated," the court allowed arguments to go forward.
Smith ordered Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted to continue using the state's current confirmation forms, which have been repeatedly revised in response to years of legal wrangling.
Wednesday's decision effectively makes Husted's voluntary changes permanent. The judge also ordered him to make one additional change to make them compliant with the National Voting Rights Act, which is adding information telling people who move out of state how to remain eligible to vote.
Stuart Naifeh, of Demos, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the judge's order was validation of plaintiffs' claims that the forms were improperly vague in letting recipients know failure to reply could trigger removal proceedings.
"We are gratified that the court ruled that Ohio's notice has for many years been out of compliance with the NVRA in one way, but unfortunately, the court failed to recognize the multiple other ways in which Ohio had violated federal law," Naifeh said. "And it left Ohio voters who have been wrongfully purged or are set to be wrongfully purged after the November election with no relief or option to cast a ballot that will count this November."
Naifeh said plaintiffs were deciding their next steps.
"This decision comes after the voter registration deadline has passed and just as early voting is beginning, when voters and our clients can no longer take matters into their own hands to correct the Secretary's violation of federal law," he said. "We are considering our options."
Husted, a candidate for lieutenant governor, said Wednesday's ruling was yet another win for Ohio's voting procedures. He characterized the plaintiffs as "out-of-state activist litigators" who have "tried to undermine Ohio's election system and compromise election officials' ability to maintain accurate voter rolls" for three years.
"As multiple federal courts have stated, including in today's winning decision, Ohio is a national leader in making voting accessible to its residents," he said in a statement. "Ohio's process for managing its voter rolls has been upheld by multiple courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court. It's now time for the plaintiffs to move on and end their attempts to undermine Ohio's elections."
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- Supreme Court reschedules argument in Ohio voter purge case