Ohio Democrats filed a lawsuit Friday attempting to stop Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s planned removal of more than 200,000 voters from registration rolls next week for sitting out too many elections.
State Democratic Chairman David Pepper said that after recent revelations showing “thousands of errors in voters purged … it makes no sense for the secretary of state to push forward with the purge.”
He added, “These problems need to be looked at more thoroughly.”
The 17-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus, seeks a restraining order blocking the Sept. 6 purge and asks that LaRose be ordered to conduct “a manual review of the voting history of each voter at risk of being purged.”
Attorneys for Democrats said LaRose “increased the risk that eligible voters have been, and will be, unlawfully removed from the Ohio voter file in a manner that prevents them from casting a regular ballot, by knowingly and intentionally relying on inaccurate purge list and then exacerbating the risk by scheduling the purge to take place immediately prior to” primary elections being held in some jurisdictions Sept. 10.
Democrats also are demanding an independent audit to review Ohio’s process for updating voter rolls removing infrequent voters from the lists.
“There is no justification for moving forward knowing there are errors in the system,” Pepper said in a Friday morning call with reporters. Eligible voters potentially “are losing their right to vote at no fault of their own.”
The announcement comes after The Columbus Dispatch reported that a vendor who works with county boards of elections mistakenly flagged more than 1,600 people for purging from the rolls of eligible voters, marking the second time in three weeks that problems have surfaced with the list of registrations that could be canceled next week.
A Dispatch analysis found that 1,641 voters who cast ballots after the 2015 primary election — an action that should have prevented them from being placed on a potential purge list — were sent last-chance notices this summer, warning that their registration could be canceled next Friday if they didn’t act.
“It’s more clear than ever there is a problem,” Pepper said.
A spokesperson for LaRose, a Republican, issued a statement defending the state’s process for updating voter rolls.
“We’re proud of providing unprecedented levels of transparency into this process, but we won’t ignore the law. When we partnered with the NAACP, the Ohio Republican Party, the Urban League, church organizations and labor unions to get voters activated, the Ohio Democratic Party stood on the sidelines. Of course a lawsuit is the next step in their tired playbook,” said spokesperson Maggie Sheehan.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in mid-2018 that Ohio’s process is constitutional after voting rights groups sued to stop the purges.
In a settlement stemming from the same case reached Wednesday between LaRose and plaintiffs the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Ohio resident Larry Harmon, the secretary of state agreed to allow provisional ballots to be cast by eligible voters whose registrations have been canceled or will be canceled this year because they have not voted for six years.
That includes voters whose registrations are canceled for inactivity as part of the state’s next voter purge next Friday.
If an individual purged in 2019 casts a provisional ballot, it would serve as voter activity and they would be restored to the rolls, according to the ACLU of Ohio, which represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
It is unclear how many people the exception could affect.
Pepper called the settlement a “Band-Aid fix” which does not solve the problem and requires “eligible voters to go through additional hoops” because of bureaucratic error and no fault of their own.