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VICTORY! GOP’s Ohio Voter Purge Smacked Down In Federal Court (VIDEO)

Ohio voters received a bit of good news Friday when a federal appeals court ruled that the state is illegally removing voters from its registration list. This is a crucial decision that may give tens of thousands of Ohioans a chance to vote in this battleground state on Nov. 8.

Ohio voters will now find it easier To Make their votes count

A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district judge’s decision that the policy was legal, The Associated Press reported. In July, the Department of Justice also weighed in, saying that the policy violated the law.

Under the supervision of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, his office began removing voters from eligibility if they had not voted in a federal election since 2008. A lawsuit was filed by the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union and progressive policy group Democrats to block the policy, and the argument was that Husted was violating the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).

“We are very pleased about the decision from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals,” said ACLU Ohio senior policy director Mike Brickner. “They have affirmed that the supplemental process used by Husted does violate federal law. The secretary of state cannot purge people simply because they haven’t voted in three federal elections.”

Husted replied in a statement:

“This ruling overturns 20 years of Ohio law and practice, which has been carried out by the last four secretaries of state, both Democrat and Republican. It also reverses a federal court settlement from just two years ago that required exactly the opposite action.”

Brickner said it’s not clear exactly how many voters were removed from the lists. However, the number is between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands, he said.

The numbers are staggering

And research by PBS NewsHour showed that at least 200,000 people were removed from voter rolls because of this policy. And the Cincinnati Enquirer found that a number of Ohio’s 88 counties have different policies for removing voters and that Husted did not know how many voters had been removed from these lists statewide.

Which begs the question:

Why were the voters purged?

They were purged because Husted sent out a form alerting voters who haven’t voted in two years to confirm their eligibility or face the possibility of their voting registrations canceled. This practice has been a state law under Democrats and Republicans for the past 20 years. Husted, who served two terms as statehouse Speaker, has tightened enforcement of the law.

PBS NewsHour Weekend correspondent Chris Bury interviewed Husted in an effort to gain a bit more perspective into the situation.

Bury asked:

“As secretary of state, is it your mission to ensure that as many people as possible vote in Ohio?”

But Husted side-stepped the question.

“My goal is to strike the balance between making it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” he said.

He elaborated that the state keeps the voting list accurate by doing two things: Using the national post office database, and by purging people. That happens, he said, because people often don’t register their new addresses when they move. And that’s when they get purged.

“You’re inactive for two years, meaning that you’ve note voted, you’ve not done anything, we send you a card to say, ‘Hey, are you still registered to vote?’ And, ‘Are you still living at this address?’” Husted added.

States are supposed to make it easier to vote, not harder

Attorney Dan Tokaji, co-counsel for the lawsuit, noted the law violates the NVRA, also known as the motor voter bill. The law requires states to improve opportunities to register to vote. Allowing people to register while applying for a driver’s license is one such example.

“If the state has other reasons for believing somebody has moved, for example, if they get information from the post office indicating that that person’s address has changed, it can initiate the process for removing voters,” Tokaji said. “What neither Ohio nor any other state can do is to initiate the purge process solely because of a registered voter’s failure to vote.”

Nevertheless, Ohio did it anyway. And six other states — Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Georgia and West Virginia — also take voter inactivity into account when purging names from registered voter lists.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU and Democratic legislators claimed that Husted “has canceled the registrations of voters in part because of their failure to respond to a notice mailed to their registered address, including notices sent to homeless voters who frequently cannot receive mail reliably.”

Thousands of people were purged in just one county

Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, is largely Democratic. Last year, some 40,000 or more people were illegally purged from voter rolls for choosing not to vote, and a disproportionate number were from poor and minority neighborhoods, according to the Ohio chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor group that represents minorities.

Related: Report: Voters With Highest Education Still Lean Heavily Toward THIS Party

Voting rights groups have repeatedly contested states’ registration purges — especially in Ohio, Georgia, Kansas and Iowa. They contend that black, Latino, poor, young and homeless voters have been disproportionately purged. And elections officials in Florida, Kansas, Iowa and Harris County, Texas have been mandated by courts to restore thousands of voters to the registration rolls or to halt purges that were found to be discriminatory.

Who gets purged?

The NVRA requires state and local elections officials to keep voter registration lists accurate by removing names of those who have died, moved or failed to vote in successive elections. Voters who were convicted of felonies or ruled mentally incompetent can also be removed. And so can voters who are noncitizens. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 15 million names were removed from national lists in 2014.

NBC’s News21 analyzed lists containing nearly 50 million registered voters from 12 states. The station also analyzed seven million more who’d been removed over the last year. When it compared voter registration and purge lists against U.S. Census date, News21 didn’t find a national or statewide pattern of discrimination in regards to race, ethnicity, age, poverty, or surname.

Where purges hit hardest

Even so, the data did show purges disproportionately affected minority and low-income voters in some communities, and affected white voters in others. In Cincinnati, poverty rates and voter purges appeared interconnected, while in rural Hancock County, Georgia, race appeared to be a factor in removing voters. And a shrinking population in Vermilion County, Indiana, accounted for scores of white voters being purged from the rolls.

With Friday’s decision, the case will now be referred back to the lower court, which must now establish a procedure to restore purged voters or allow them to vote provisionally and have those votes count. And it’s something he could possibly do, but hopefully won’t.

In his statement, Husted said he’s waiting for the district court to provide a “workable remedy.”

“To that end, if the final resolution requires us to reinstate voting eligibility to individuals who have died or moved out of Ohio, we will appeal,” he said.

Whichever way this comes about, it needs to be done quickly, Brickner notes, because the general election is less than seven weeks away. Early voting begins even sooner.

“It’s important that we have some finality here, so that poll workers, voters and election officials all know what the rules are in advance of Election Day,” Brickner said.

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If you live in Ohio, and you’re not sure about the status of your registration, you can check it out here. The state’s deadline to register or re-register is Oct. 11.

Here’s why Ohio matters

With so many voters being purged, it’s tempting to think your vote doesn’t matter, but that’s not true. President Obama received 103,481 more votes than Mitt Romney in 2012, winning Ohio’s 18 electoral college votes. And since 1960, Ohio has voted for the winner of the presidential election without a single Republican becoming president without winning there.

Remember: 103,481 votes mattered.

The video below provides a good picture of the situation in Ohio.

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Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

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