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Use It or Lose It: Ohio Battles Over Cleansing Voter Registration List

Winning the White House has been mission impossible for Republican presidential candidates who can't win Ohio. No GOP ticket has ever made it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue without planting a victory flag in the Buckeye State.

But it is also a critical state for Democrats. None of their presidential candidates have gone to the White House without claiming victory in Ohio since 1960.

And this election will be no different, said Nancy Martorano Miller, an associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton

"Ohio will resume its traditional role as a central battleground in the 2016 presidential election,” Martorano Miller said.

John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron, told U.S. News & World Report that Democrats are going to have to at least equal their turnout numbers from the 2008 and 2012 elections if they are going to have a chance of moving the Clinton-Kaine ticket to D.C.

As important as the turnout numbers are to both parties, the suspense will be palpable over the next few weeks in Ohio as Democrats worry tens of thousands of potential converts to their cause could be removed from the state’s list of eligible voters.

U.S. District Judge George C. Smith rejected a lawsuit June 29 that attempted to block the Ohio secretary of state from purging Ohio’s voter rolls of people who had not cast a ballot in the past six years unless they had updated their registration or responded to queries about their addresses.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Demos filed the suit on behalf of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys appealed the decision, and the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from both sides July 27.

Although the Ohio secretary of state has not released a list of purged voters, Reuters reported close to 144,000 names could've been erased in just the state’s three largest counties.

“In 2015, Ohio conducted a massive purge across the state,” Andre Washington, president of the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute chapter, said. “In Cuyahoga County alone, approximately 40,000 individuals were unlawfully purged merely for choosing not to vote, and a disproportionate number came from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.”

The Obama administration's Justice Department has come out against the Ohio Secretary of State's office. The DOJ has entered a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the plaintiffs and asked the Sixth Circuit Court to reverse Judge Smith’s decision.

The Justice Department’s brief argued the Ohio voter cleansing violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

The brief also contends that Ohio’s assumption that voters who have not cast a ballot in two years have moved, followed by a confirmation notice to verify a change of address, is inadequate.

However, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said Smith’s rejection of the lawsuit proves there is nothing wrong with the way the state cleans its voter registration lists.

“While (the) ruling reaffirms that the process Ohio has used for over two decades is constitutional and in line with state and federal law,” Husted said, “the best news is that we can put another wasteful lawsuit behind us and focus on the important work of running elections in Ohio.”

Meanwhile, the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, worried about losing votes for the Clinton campaign, mounted a re-registration campaign.

“Churches will be registering voters and also checking if voters have been purged because, unfortunately in Ohio, we have about two million people who have been purged and probably don’t know that they have,” Rep. Alicia Reece (D) told WKSU-FM.

The Black Caucus is also demanding a list of the people who have been cut from the voter rolls to make sure the SOS office has not made any mistakes.

Joshua Eck, a spokesman for Ohio’s Secretary of State office, said there’s no need for that.

He pointed out Ohio residents only need to go to MyOhioVote.com to check their registration and download a registration form if needed.

Eck also said the SOS office would be contacting unregistered eligible voters to urge them to get registered by the end of summer.

But while Ohio waited for a circuit court ruling, the voter purge continued.