Supreme Court Majority To The Wrong Voters: Drop Dead

The United States Supreme Court this morning decided that voting rights – guaranteed to all citizens in the 15th Amendment – are in fact entirely negotiable if particular states would prefer to greatly restrict them. In this case, the particular state is Ohio, which sought to purge minority voters from voters rolls in both a blatant and very effective attempt to tilt the state toward conservative candidates.

Ohio’s Attorney General, a Republican named Jon Husted, has argued that the voter purges are necessary because voting rights have to be used to be kept. He literally said as much in an interview:

“If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period…”

Husted’s understanding of voter rights mirrors the common understanding of rights widely shared throughout society, in which they are sacrificed if not used within a time-frame introduced by political partisans.

The Court’s majority opinion, written by Samuel Alito, agrees with Husted’s understanding of voting rights, deciding that, rather than being guaranteed to all citizens in a what-seems-to-be-very-clear 15th Amendment, they are in fact use-it-or-lose-it properties, which can be denied on a state’s whim if doing so would advantage conservative political goals. The officially accepted argument is that voters who skip an election, regardless of why, can be safely assumed to no longer want to vote, and can be prevented from voting accordingly; that Ohio doesn’t have same-day registration, meaning that voters who discover they have been removed cannot re-register on the day that they discover it, matters not to the current conservative majority. Alito – who was joined in his opinion by John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, and  Neil Gorsuch – made the decision after collectively deciding that the following language in the National Voter Registration Act

The NVRA prohibits any state from removing a registrant from the federal roll “by reason of the person’s failure to vote.” Congress intended this provision to protect Americans’ right to vote and not to vote, barring states from implementing a “use it or lose it” policy that punished infrequent voters.

…and the plain language of the United States Constitution

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

…were all just jokes not to be taken seriously, especially if the Court’s conservative wing wants to make it easier for conservative candidates to win elections by suppressing voter turnout, something the court’s conservative majority has seen as its outstanding obligation in the wake of Barack Obama’s first presidential win. Since that happened, the Court’s conservative majority has repeatedly asked itself, “What does our side need to do the tilt the scales even further in our favor?” and then made issued rulings adhering to those answers, including decisions to further empower conservative billionaires, decisions to suppress minority voter participation, and today’s decision. (Sonia Sotomayor’s blistering dissent, which notes that suppressing minority voter participation is quite obviously the point, makes the  point far more eloquently.)

There will be those who claim that this description of today’s decision is unfair and that these justices cannot be held responsible for having decided things the way that they did. It should be considered entirely unrelated that today’s decision happens to benefit a voter suppression movement lead by unbelievably dishonest conservatives, and that any allegation that these two things are related is insufficiently deferential to the allegedly objective positions occupied by judges, and especially America’s most conservative ones. Yes, today’s decision aligns with what those particular judges want for America politically, and yes, today’s decision allows states to deprive their citizens of their right to vote, but to suggest that both are in any way related is inexplicably beyond the pale, because decency, or some similarly ridiculous attempt to excuse away the decision’s obvious intent.

Those making such defensive claims are either willfully deluding themselves about American institutions or are themselves part of the scam. This goes double for those who genuinely go along with the idea that Ohio’s goal is simply to keep its voter rolls accurate, and has nothing to do with an ongoing attempt to infringe upon the state’s minority voters. But for those who do willingly believe in such transparent hokum, surely the numbers themselves reveal that Husted’s purge was carried out without regard for political ideology?

In Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, 5 percent of voters in neighborhoods that backed Obama by more than 60 percent in 2012 were purged last year due to inactivity, according to the Reuters analysis of the voter lists. In neighborhoods where Obama got less than 40 percent of the vote, 2.5 percent of registered voters were removed for that reason.

Oh.

Well.

Umm.

Why it’s just the damndest coincidence in the whole wide world!

But rest assured, there is nothing to see here, beyond the newly invented legal idea that rights can be forfeited if not used often enough, something that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority would definitely agree to in other similar examples.


Senior Editor
Twitter Instagram 

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

47 thoughts on “Supreme Court Majority To The Wrong Voters: Drop Dead

  1. Assuming it is a problem to have registrations where no one is voting (they are dead, institutionalized, moved out of state, etc.), what is a good way to keep voter rolls clean?

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Just off the top of my head, I would note that the IRS and state tax authorities are pretty likely to know where you are (and be able to distinguish between the various incarnations of John Smith). Likewise the Post Office knows when you’ve moved and where to, assuming you want your mail to follow you.

      I’m sure there are other ways. So why the hell can’t we use this massive architecture of surveillance and tracking for something beneficial for a change?

        Quote  Link

      Report

  2. So, can they get their voting rights back by registering, or are they lost forever? Can they re-register, in a manner such as they did to vote in the first place? Does this only affect Democrats, or could if effect anyone who didn’t vote for four years? Do you believe in same-day voter registration? What is your stand on the IRS denying people the ability to organize into tax-exempt groups based on politics?

    Also, does this mean that other constitutionally protected rights should not be infringed, such as the second amendment? They are both written into the constitution after all…

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Pretty sure that once you confirm you have a pulse and reside in the state, you can vote again.

      IMHO, as long as they aren’t conducting a purge right before an election (as opposed to right after, when citizens would have a full two years to get the card and respond to it), I am not seeing the issue.

      I can certainly imagine better ways to handle the issue of keeping the voter rolls up to date (see ‘s reply up above, for example), but I am not sure about what makes this so horrendously bad.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  3. You already require citizens to register themselves in order to receive the right to vote. Requiring them to keep either voting or to confirm that they are still living in their particular district doesn’t seem to me to be a unreasonable burden.

    And yeah, it is blatantly partisan, but those are the rules you are playing in.

      Quote  Link

    Report

          • Right…because all I’ve heard from many on the left for the last year is “they elected that (insert derogatory comment) Trump. It’s been nothing from the left except massive endorsement of the right to vote….I’ll stop rolling my eyes now.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • Right…because all I’ve heard from many on the left for the last year is “they elected that (insert derogatory comment) Trump. It’s been nothing from the left except massive endorsement of the right to vote….I’ll stop rolling my eyes now.

              This is an incredibly silly statement, but just because it’s an incredibly silly statement doesn’t mean I don’t endorse your right to make it.

                Quote  Link

              Report

        • And the fact that I can’t tell whether you are serious or kidding is depressing.

          No not you personally, but I mean, this is becoming normalized, this Third World banana republic way of thinking about how we govern ourselves.

            Quote  Link

          Report

            • Most countries have ID you’re forced to have at 18, that’s free, and easily available. Also, in those countries, nobody is really checked for your ID – see, the backlash to it being more firmly enforced in the UK

              We’d believe the “we just care about voter integrity” if voter ID laws weren’t followed by things like the closing of DMV offices in urban areas.

              https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/29/england-voter-id-trial-discrimination-fears-electoral-fraud

                Quote  Link

              Report

            • This foriegner first worlder gets to vote without every caring about being “registered.” I don’t even need an official government ID on me, I can just show up to a polling place with a couple bills to show I live in the polling area.

              When it comes to voting rights, you folks look like barbarians to me.

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • A couple bills? Like what, twenties?

                I kid, I kid…

                But the wikis list the following for Canada, where I believe you are? Correct me if I am wrong:

                Show one original government-issued piece of identification with photo, name and address, like a driver’s license or a health card.
                Show two original pieces of authorized identification. Both pieces must have a name and one must also have an address. Examples: student ID card, birth certificate, public transportation card, utility bill, bank/credit card statement, etc.
                Take an oath and have an elector who knows the voter vouch for them (both of whom must make a sworn statement). This person must have authorized identification and their name must appear on the list of electors in the same polling division as the voter. This person can only vouch for one person and the person who is vouched for cannot vouch for another elector.However, in some provinces a voter must establish their identity by presenting a health insurance card, driver’s license, Canadian passport, certificate of Indian status, or a Canadian Forces ID card.[8] These are all photos IDs.

                Every other first world country on the list has similar, or stricter, requirements.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • Yeah, that’s pretty much what Brent said.

                  I can show up on election day, not previously registered to vote (which itself is kind of hard, as you’re automatically registered if you’ve ever check the ‘register me to vote’box on your tax return), present a prescription pill bottle and a cable TV bill, and vote that day.

                  And if I don’t have two pieces of ID matching the above stringent standards, a neighbour who is registered can swear an oath that they know me and I live in the riding, and I can vote. Not vote “provisionally” – just plain vote.

                  Certainly there is no way I’d be de-registered just because I happened to sit out the last few elections.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                • Exactly this. This sort of stuff really isn’t that hard to do in a reasonable and fair fashion if there is the political will to run an election correctly. Once you’ve let political gamesmanship dominant the process though, you’re going to get an unnessarily subpar process.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

          • Ideally, I’d be serious. Having one party’s partisan dirty tricks shoved back down their throats when the cycle turns over should dissuade them from trying that shit again. Except these days, it is less an admonishment to stop being a dick and more a challenge to be more of a dick the next time around.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • Next time around? Heck, it’s a caution that they’d better be such total dicks that the other party never ever gets a chance to turn the tables. Once you’ve passed a certain threshold of dirtiness, the fear of getting a taste of your own medicine is always reason enough to justify going the next bit dirtier.

                Quote  Link

              Report

            • Right, but for all their other flaws as a party, Democrats really want to make it easier for everybody to vote, and Ohio Dems will be no different should they take control of the state government there.

              And really this is one area where I’d rather they didn’t play that sort of hardball.

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • Again, ideally, I’d rather we just come up with solid ways to verify voter information from all the myriad other bits of data government has on us (I mean, if they insist upon keeping such close tabs on us for our own security and revenue generation, the least they can do is make life easier whenever feasible).

                That said, and despite the clearly partisan nature of the actions taken by Ohio, the offense here is ideological, not legal. The system the GOP put in place is not wantonly unfair, except that one side would rather not play that game.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • I’d accept the Court’s rulings on the merits (the argument made in the majority opinion is pretty reasonable) if the majority weren’t transparently arguing in bad faith.

                  If they aren’t going to make the effort to even pretend to be acting out of principle instead of partisanship, I really don’t see why I should.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • That’s fair.

                    I mean, I agree they are being pretty damn partisan about it

                    ETA Which means (I fear) that Chip is right, I am becoming used to the new normal that it’s all good as long as everyone can be equally dick-ish, even if only one side wants to stop to that level.

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                • Again, ideally, I’d rather we just come up with solid ways to verify voter information from all the myriad other bits of data government has on us (I mean, if they insist upon keeping such close tabs on us for our own security and revenue generation, the least they can do is make life easier whenever feasible).

                  As I’ve argued before, I think we’re well past the point where we can live in the fiction that not having universal government IDs ‘protects’ us from any sort of government control. The idea that the government can’t type on a keyboard somewhere and pull up way more information than would be in a ‘national ID’ database is nonsense.

                  And I’d like to not only see IDs exist, and required for all sorts of things, but to literally make them mandatory. Like, everyone has to get one, and, more to the point, the US government has to figure out who everyone is and actually give them an ID card. (Which also would be a driver’s license if they can drive, but that permission would still be up to the states.)

                  This would require some sort of politically-distanced bureaucracy that operates like the census, and is forbidden from providing information to ICE about anyone who is in the country illegally. As long as they admit their status, and their ID is stamped ‘non-citizen’ so they can’t vote. I mean, they generally aren’t voting anyway, but this is a trick to undercut the right’s nonsense about that.

                  And, most important, the government would not be able to refuse to give someone an ID card…all humans beings have to be a specific person. (Of course, they fingerprint you to make sure you aren’t trying to be multiple people.) If you show up and claim to be a person with a specific name, well, they’d basically have to take you at your word unless they had some reason to disprove it. I’d be willing to have a slightly higher threshold for determining if someone is a _citizen_ or not, but ‘voted in previous elections’ should be a pretty strong indicator, as is ‘is 70 years old and no one seems to think she immigrated’. And even if they can’t figure out if you’re a citizen, they still have to give you an ID card. Because, again, every person exists as a person, and should be uniquely identifiable.

                  And every citizen is automatically registered to vote. In fact, there is no such thing as a separate voter roll…you have an ID card that says you’re a voter, and you’re in the database as such, you can vote. States have access to lists of ‘Here is every listed voter who lives in your state’ to send to precincts, which also stops people from voting in multiple locations…the database only has one address field, obviously. If your name gets sent to one state, it doesn’t get sent to another.

                  The only caveat is residency requirements, but that’s a rather minor thing.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • Oh, and this would actually make a lot of things much easier. For example, driver’s licenses.

                    So you move to a state, and you notify exactly one entity you have moved, the Federal government.

                    The state is then notified by them, and notices you don’t have a driver’s license in that state, but do in another and thus are presumably a driver. It notifies you to get one with X months.

                    When you do get it, all it does is update the Federal database to say ‘You got a drivers license in This State on a certain date and it expires on this other date’. Notable, this doesn’t do _anything_ to your previous licenses. You don’t turn them in, they are not revoked, nothing happens with them except those previous states don’t bother contacting you at renewal time because, presumably, you no longer need a license in their state.

                    This also means you can just move back to some previous state and they look in the records, see you have an unexpired license issued by them, and don’t pester you for anything.

                    In fact, states can add rules like ‘If you work in this state but live in another, you need to get and keep a license here, also.’, and let non-residents have licenses.

                    Same thing could work with, for example, concealed carry permits. Or _anything_ states want to license you for. It’s all just a record in the Federal database. It’s a lot harder to fake than pieces of paper in a wallet.

                    (And, again, just in case people are paranoid and also think it’s 1995…does anyone think the US government doesn’t have complete access to all those state databases anyway?)

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                  • This would require some sort of politically-distanced bureaucracy that operates like the census, and is forbidden from providing information to ICE about anyone who is in the country illegally.

                    This seems unrealistic. The gov will use this tool to enforce laws. Illegals are illegal.

                    There are obvious ways to connect those dots, we should expect not only the obvious uses but the obvious misuses.

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

              • Right, but for all their other flaws as a party, Democrats really want to make it easier for everybody to vote,

                I’m too much of a cynic to think it’s out of the goodness of their hearts.

                Let me guess, the Dems benefit by having it easier for everyone to vote?

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • Let me guess, the Dems benefit by having it easier for everyone to vote?

                  Relative to what they’d get from unfettered GOP suppression of Dem-leaning constituencies? Yes.

                  Relative to what they’d get from unfettered Dem suppression of GOP-leaning constituencies? No.

                  As with most partisan preferences, individual members of the party support voting rights for a mix of reasons.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • What I think is astounding, is the frank admission here that in a free and fair election, in which every citizen who could vote, did vote, the Republican Party would be virtually wiped out of power.

                    This coming from people who deify the Founders and sacralize the Constitution and lecture us about the Federalist Papers.

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                    • The Founders were weighted somewhat against universal suffrage.

                      The irony is it was the next generation, the Jacksonian one – you known the one led by Trump’s hero – that universal (white male) suffrage became the standard on which the very idea of America was based (and America was exceptional)

                      Also, nitpick from the OP, it’s not the 15th that guarantees voting rights. But it’s certainly the thru line between the 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th amendments that voting should be maximized. And laws should be interpreted with this in mind.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

  4. Let me make a few observations:

    1. As just about everyone here knows, I’m a Singapore citizen living in the UK. I am registered to vote in both countries. Registering to vote in Coventry was a simple process. I got sent a letter once or twice and I registered to vote. So I am registered to vote even if I don’t bother voting. I don’t know that registering to vote in Ohio is that difficult a process.

    2. In Singapore, voting is regarded as compulsory. IIRC, if you don’t vote in one election cycle, you are removed from the list of registered voters and have to pay a $50 fine/fee in order to re-register yourself. I have never really thought that this was a particularly unjust law. If it is unjust, it is only mildly so. Ohio’s system does not seem worse than Singapore’s.

    3. In principle, I’m not sure whether people who can’t be bothered to register to vote over a 6 year period ought to vote. If you can’t even be bothered to register to vote, you probably lack sufficient interest in the issues to even minimally inform yourself on them. I believe that it would be wrong for anyone who was insufficiently informed about an issue to vote on it (cf all the people who voted on brexit without even knowing what brexit was about).

    4. Leaving aside what the american constitution requires, voting is like owning a firearm. Both pose some risk to others. When I vote, I risk wronging others by voting for laws or politicians who will infringe on their rights. When I own a firearm, I risk others being wrongfully harmed. One of the basic functions of the state is to limit the ability of people to wrong others. Therefore, as a matter of basic justice, rights to own firearms or to vote are conditional on the right bearer exercising said right responsibly. We do not wrong a person by disenfranchising them if they are severely irresponsible in how they exercise their right to vote.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • In principle, I’m not sure whether people who can’t be bothered to register to vote over a 6 year period ought to vote

      Your “principle” is irrelevant to this case; this case is about Ohio’s procedure for de-registering people who were registered.

      you can’t even be bothered to register to vote, you probably lack sufficient interest in the issues to even minimally inform yourself on them.

      This is exactly the same reasoning that provided the rationale for Jim Crow. Strangely enough, state governments did not apply these sorts of qualifying tests in a fair and even-handed manner.

      We do not wrong a person by disenfranchising them if they are severely irresponsible in how they exercise their right to vote.

      The harm of an individual bad vote is diffuse; the bad incentives created by allowing a government to pick its electorate seem much less so.

        Quote  Link

      Report

    • 4. Leaving aside what the american constitution requires, voting is like owning a firearm. Both pose some risk to others. When I vote, I risk wronging others by voting for laws or politicians who will infringe on their rights. When I own a firearm, I risk others being wrongfully harmed. One of the basic functions of the state is to limit the ability of people to wrong others. Therefore, as a matter of basic justice, rights to own firearms or to vote are conditional on the right bearer exercising said right responsibly. We do not wrong a person by disenfranchising them if they are severely irresponsible in how they exercise their right to vote.

      I fundamentally reject this argument. People are under no obligation to vote responsibly in order to preserve their voting rights, and the state has no business restricting the rights of those who it judges to have voted irresponsibly.

      Voting is a mechanism of aggregating the desires of the public–If those desires have the potential to do harm the right response should never be to restrict who can vote–because in practice that just means that the potential harms become concentrated upon those who lack the franchise by which they might remedy them.

      The appropriate response is instead to set up checks and balances that equally restrict the whole voting populace–intermediary steps such as a representative rather than direct democracy, institutions such as courts that are capable of protecting the rights of minority interests, and so forth.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  5. “surely the numbers themselves reveal that Husted’s purge was carried out without regard for political ideology?”

    Sam doesn’t flat-out say that the purge was carried out unevenly for political advantage, but I’m guessing that he’s implying it. But the evidence he cites doesn’t prove that. Poorer urban people are more likely to vote Democratic, and they’re more likely to move.

    The linked article also includes the following, which I wouldn’t have gathered from this article:

    “Unlike other voting-rights disputes that have sparked protests and lawsuits, the practice doesn’t appear to be driven by one specific party. Both Republican and Democratic officials in Ohio have purged inactive voters over the past 20 years.”

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. Also: The Fifteenth Amendment didn’t guarantee voting rights to all citizens. And on what basis should we consider this decision to be a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment?

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *