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Supreme Court hears Ohio ‘use it or lose it’ case as Wash. seeks to loosen voting rules

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As Washington state lawmakers debate how to improve access to voting, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case on one state’s efforts to purge voters from its rolls.

In 2015, Larry Harmon went to vote in his home state of Ohio but was turned away, saying his voter registration had been canceled. In Ohio, voters who have not engaged in voter activity for two years are sent address confirmation notices. If a voter returns the notice through prepaid mail or responds through the internet, his or her information is updated. If the notice is ignored and the voter fails to update a registration over the next four years, the registration is canceled.

Harmon hadn’t voted in 2009 and 2010 and claimed he didn’t remember seeing a confirmation notice from the state. He sued and in 2016, a federal appeals court ruled that the state’s so-called “supplemental process” violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). That law says a voter can’t be removed simply because of a failure to vote.

On the heels of President Donald J. Trump dissolution of his controversial voter fraud commission, in a statement, his administration wrote that the NVRA “does not prohibit a state from using nonvoting” as the basis to send an address-verification notice, government lawyers argued in briefs. “That conclusion is supported by the NVRA’s text, context and history,” they wrote.

Speaking with USA Today, Army veteran Joe Helle says he “broke down into tears” after being turned away at the polls because he had neither voted in the six years prior nor had he returned the warning notice.

“It’s absolutely voter suppression,” Helle, mayor of Oak Harbor, Ohio, and a Democrat in a state run by Republicans, says. “There is no other good reason for it.”

Voting rights groups have urged the justices to uphold the lower court’s opinion.

The Supreme Court’s ruling could directly affect similar policies in six states.

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