Black voters were twice as likely to be removed from the rolls

Ari Berman on why the Supreme Court ruling on Ohio’s voter suppression matters:

In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to end the disenfranchisement of black voters in the Jim Crow South. The law was remarkably successful in dismantling barriers to the ballot box like literacy tests and poll taxes, but a few decades later, Congress recognized that more still needed to be done to boost political participation. In the 1988 presidential election, for example, barely half of eligible African American voters cast a ballot.

In response to persistently low voter turnout, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to allow voters to register at Department of Motor Vehicles offices and other public agencies. President Bill Clinton called it “a sign of a new vibrancy in our democracy.” The “motor voter” law had an immediate impact: More than 30 million people registered or updated their registrations through the NVRA in its first year in effect. Roughly 16 million people per year have used it to register ever since.

That’s good; it’s a good thing; we don’t want people to have to make “a little effort” to vote when they were prevented from voting for a century after the Civil War. We want to eliminate as much need for “a little effort” as possible, because what are minor obstacles to people with cars and internet access and free time are prohibitive barriers to people with two or three badly-paid jobs and no car and children and no nearby internet access or bus route.

One of the key features of the law was to protect voters from being wrongly removed from the voter rolls. The NVRA stipulated that someone could not be removed from the rolls “by reason of the person’s failure to vote.” But in a 5-4 decision Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Ohio could remove infrequent voters from the rolls, severely weakening the power of the NVRA and opening the door to wider voter purging.

Ohio purged more than 2 million registered voters between 2011 and 2016, more than any other state. Black voters in the state’s largest counties were twice as likely as white voters to be removed from the rolls. In a dissent to Monday’s ruling, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the court’s opinion “entirely ignores the history of voter suppression against which the NVRA was enacted and upholds a program that appears to further the very disenfranchisement of minority and low-income voters that Congress set out to eradicate.”

This is why talking about having more respect for people who make a little effort to vote is so wrongheaded.

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