COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The Franklin County Board of Elections mailed out more than 25,000 last chance notices in the past month, as part of a statewide request to update voter registration rolls.
In late June, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose directed all counties to identify and notify inactive registered voters. Ohio law says those who have not voted in the past six years and who don’t respond by September 6th will be cancelled from the voter rolls.
“Basically it’s to keep updated and accurate voting records,” explained Aaron Sellers, the public information officer for the Franklin County Board of Elections.
The practice dates back several decades to when Sherrod Brown was the Secretary of State, as a means of record maintenance. Proponents say it also prevents election fraud.
But voter registration cancellation has sparked its share of criticism over the years, even after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Ohio law in 2018.
“That is a form of voter suppression and that’s not acceptable in 2019 today,” said Stephanie Hightower, the president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League.
Hightower is among those who believe the law adversely affects low-income and minority voters. She said it has been a topic of discussion ahead of the NAACP’s push to register more voters in the coming weeks.
“Worrying about whether or not you can vote today is not on the top of the list when you have so many other barriers and so many obstacles that you’re trying to deal with,” she explained.
A spokesperson with the Secretary of State’s office told NBC4 the vast majority of inactive registrations belong to voters who have died or changed addresses and typically fewer than one percent respond to the cancellation notices.
The Franklin County Board of Elections says it uses numerous avenues to verify voter registration, but voting rights activists say the system of cancellations needs to change.
Hightower said, “Instead of sitting around with a pity party, it’s about how do we take action? How do we activate those of us that are in this space to figure out how we get this resolved?”
Wednesday, the Secretary of State’s office said it planned to launch partnerships with grassroots organizations like the Columbus Urban League and NAACP to coordinate a “fresh start” outreach program for voters whose registrations have been cancelled. The office is also expecting to work with state legislators in the coming weeks to update and streamline Ohio’s voter registration process.
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