Monday’s Supreme Court decision blessing Ohio’s removal of half a million voters was ultimately decided on the issue of a postcard.
Now that little postcard threatens the voting rights of millions — but it can be reversed.
The instant-news media, working from press releases, not the Supreme Court’s decision itself, said that Husted, Ohio Secretary of State v. A. Philip Randolph Institute was about whether Ohio has the right to remove voters who failed to cast ballots in two federal election cycles.
Even the Court’s right-wing majority concedes that federal law strictly forbids removing voters because they skipped some elections. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 states that a voter purge program “shall not result in the removal of the name of any person … by reason of the person’s failure to vote.”
But here’s the trick: In 2002, the George W. Bush administration ginned up the Help America Vote Act. When a Bush tells you he’s going to “help” you vote, look out. Yet, naïve Democrats passed the act into law. The Help America Vote Act is filled with buried land mines that are still exploding.
Monday’s decision is one of those land mines. The Help America Vote Act, the Court concluded, blew open a giant loophole in the National Voter Registration Act’s protections. The trick is that Ohio does not remove voters simply because they missed a few elections. According to the majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito:
Ohio uses a registrant’s failure to vote [only] to identify that registrant as a person whose address has likely changed.
The Court takes note that Ohio claims it had evidence that, in 2012, a whopping 1.5 million voters — an astronomical 20 percent of its total voter base — had moved their residence out of Ohio or moved from their county voting area. The 1.5 million voters were sent postcards asking them to confirm their mailing address.
It was a voter’s failure to return the postcard that cost them their right to vote. The Court majority said that the Help America Vote Act trumps the National Voter Registration Act, arguing that the act passed under George W. Bush “specifies that ‘nothing in [the National Voter Registration Act prohibition] may be construed to prohibit a State from using the procedures’ — [such as] sending a return card.”
The Justices ruled that a voter’s failure to return a postcard (which asks the voter to confirm their address) constitutes solid proof that the voter had left Ohio or moved to another voting district.
The plaintiffs, a coalition of voting rights groups, were gob-smacked. Plaintiffs argued that there are many reasons folks did not return the postcard, most likely that they threw it away as junk mail or never received it in the first place. But the Court majority found that, without specific evidence, the plaintiffs’ claim that voters just threw away the cards was speculative and “dubious.”
Jim Crow Is In The Cards
Writing for the four dissenters, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the effect of the Court’s decision was to disproportionately wipe out the rights of “minority, low-income, disabled, homeless, and veteran voters.” Sotomayor went on to cite an investigation revealing that Ohio’s purge operation had knocked out the registrations of 10 percent of African American-majority neighborhoods in downtown Cincinnati compared to only 4 percent of voters in a nearby suburban, majority-white neighborhood.
But that’s the point, Madame Justice.
But how? The Jim Crow result is in the cards.
I first discovered “purge-by-postcard” in 2014 while investigating mass attacks on voter rolls by GOP officials in a dozen states for Al Jazeera. I turned to direct mail experts, including Michael Wychocki, a Chicago-based adviser on mailing for Amazon and other companies that live or die by mail.
He directed me to the US Census Bureau’s massive study of mail return rates. Dig this:
- While 90 percent of those 65 years of age and older return the Census form, only 55.4 percent of those 18 to 24 reply.
- Homeowners are 32 percent more likely than renters to return forms.
- Only 65 percent of Latino voters mailed back an initial Census form, as did 70 percent of Black voters—versus over 80 percent of “non-Hispanic whites.”
And crucially, according to the Census study, 12 percent of mailings simply go astray—especially, says Wychocki, in poor, urban communities, where the tenants hop between apartments in the same neighborhood. And let’s not even discuss students and the homeless.
By Greg Palast for Truthout