By: Sadie Peloquin
Following the decision in Husted v. Philip Randolph Institute, which upheld the Ohio’s supplemental removal process, Ohio purged 158,000 voters from its role due to inactivity and inaccurate registrations. However, that number could have been much higher. Secretary of State Frank LaRose originally complied a list of 235,000 voters who were eligible to be purged on September 6th. Due to the implementation of certain exemptions and a uniquely transparent and collaborative removal process, 20% of the names on the original list were saved from the purge. Since the purge, LaRose has continued to advance further measures to improve the Ohio voter registration system, while still dealing with problems arising from this most recent removal.
Secretary LaRose instructed county boards of elections to exempt specific categories of voters from danger of removal, and sent last chance notices out to those on the list. Roughly 12,500 voters who received a notice took action to update their registration. The exemptions included voters who moved to a new address within the same county and registrations that are missing a record of voting behavior between May 2013 and May 2019. Additionally, voters who were on the list due to errors by outside companies or were listed as active on the state database were exempted.
Interestingly, these wrongful entries on the list were not discovered by the Ohio government; they were discovered by a volunteer effort after Secretary LaRose released the original list of 235,000 names over the summer. This was likely the first time a voter purge list was released in advance. Instead of insulating the purge process from the public, LaRose was able to involve outside groups in checking the work of 88 county boards of elections. Groups such as League of Women Voters of Ohio and watchdog group Ohio Voter Project found that over 40,000 voters had valid registrations and should not have been included on the list. About half of those voters, most of whom were from Democratic-leaning Franklin County, were listed as inactive, when they had in fact been active voters in past Ohio elections. Another large group ended up on the purge list due to a data mistake made by an outside company.
Despite these steps, voters were still incorrectly removed from the lists. The Ohio House Democratic staff found that 1,000 voters in Cuyahoga County were removed in the September purge, even though they qualified for an exemption under LaRose’s earlier guidance. County election workers were provided with a non-comprehensive list from the state of those who could be exempted, but did not conduct their own analysis because they were not instructed to do so. The registrations were added back to the voter roll before the October deadline.
Missteps aside, Secretary LaRose has taken further steps to increase transparency and efficiency in voter roll maintenance, though he has repeatedly stated that voters will continue to be removed through the supplemental process, since it is the law to do so. His office released the list of removed voters to voter registration groups, so that those voters could be re-registered before the October 7th deadline for the 2019 elections. He has also said that his office may reexamine the lists of voters who were removed in previous removals, such as one that occurred in January under his predecessor. LaRose has also advocated for two pieces of legislation to help improve the voter registration process; one that would create a non-partisan board to oversee and certify voter registrations and that process, and another that would allow voter registrations to be automatically updated when Ohioans renew their driver’s licenses.