Ohio's campaign to boost youth voter registration, by mailing how-to postcards in August to 120,000 unregistered young adults with driver licenses or state IDs, is getting praise from voting rights activists.
But some of those advocates say the campaign has a serious flaw: Increasing numbers of young people, especially the poor and minorities, aren't getting their licenses or signing up for the IDs. At least 17 percent of Ohio's 18-year-olds don't have either, the Cleveland Plain Dealer calculated based on state records and census estimates.
Ohio election officials are scheduled to cancel the voter registrations of 235,000 people on Friday, despite repeated discoveries of errors in the voter database.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose has compiled a list of registered voters to be purged unless the people in question take action. Since then, voting rights groups have been digging into the data files and finding errors.
Both the Huffington Post and Columbus Dispatch have reported on multiple cases of errors, totaling tens of thousands of voters. While many were not directly tied to the purge list, advocates argue these errors demonstrate a bigger problem with the voter registration system and the list cleanse needs to be stopped.
Ohio is moving ahead with its second purge of the voter rolls this year, though not before the state's new Republican top elections official helps in a search for people who haven't voted in a while.
Still, Democrats say the purge will wrongly disenfranchise too many – mainly poor people, minorities and students.
Last year the Supreme Court upheld an Ohio law requiring the removal from voter lists of those who have not cast ballots in at least six years or responded to "last chance" notices sent by mail. About 3 percent of the state's 8 million registered voters were dropped in January, and on Monday the elections boards of all 88 counties mailed new last-chance notices to another 3 percent, or almost 236,000 people, setting a Labor Day deadline for updating voter information.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose has promised to turn over the roster of affected voters this week to the League of Women Voters and several religious leaders who say they want to search for voters and encourage them to re-register.
"We want to try to find everyone that we can," he told the Columbus Dispatch, although he predicted most on the lists were duplicate entries, dead or no longer living in the state.
LaRose is also vowing to press the state legislature to make Ohio the 19th state with automatic voter registration, under which all eligible people are added to the voter rolls whenever they get a driver's license or otherwise interact with a state agency. But it seems unlikely that will happen by next year, when Ohio's 18 electoral votes will be a prime target of both presidential candidates.
Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who was secretary of state in the 1980s, and several state legislators urged a lenient approach to culling the voter rolls in the interim. Brown is pushing legislation, which stands little chance in the GOP Senate, that would make it illegal for a state to use "failure to vote or respond to a state notice as reason to target" voters for removal from the rolls.
Ohio's congressional map is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, a panel of three federal judges ruled unanimously on Friday.
The decision only heightens the landmark nature of the decision due next month from the Supreme Court. It is poised to either conclude that drawing electoral districts for partisan gain is not something the courts should interfere with, or else set a nationwide standard for when redistricting becomes so poisoned by political power plays that the voters' free speech or free association rights are violated.
Ohio becomes the fourth state where House district maps have been struck down by a court as impermissibly punishing one party's voters to benefit the other side. The maps in North Carolina, drawn to favor the Republicans, and in Maryland, drawn to benefit the Democrats, are before the Supreme Court. A panel of federal judges in Michigan this month struck down that state's map, at least until the high court ruling. Two years ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that state's map was unconstitutionally politicized by the GOP and compelled that it get remade so Democrats could contest more seats in the 2018 midterm.
Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan are all politically purple and the overall votes for Congress have been split almost evenly in this decade. But Ohio's map has consistently produced a delegation of 12 Republicans and just four Democrats.
Attorneys for the Republicans who ran the mapmaking process at the start of the decade said they collaborated with the Democrats with the main objectives of protecting incumbents at a time the state lost two House seats. But the judges – one named by Bill Clinton, one by Barack Obama and one by George W. Bush – rejected that argument and ordered the state to come up with a more politically balanced map by June 20, likely before the Supreme Court ruling.