Anyone who reads this newspaper knows we have vigorously opposed voter suppression in all its many ugly guises. We repeatedly opposed the state’s 2011 voter photo ID law as racially discriminatory, a conclusion eventually shared by the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — twice. We have condemned gerrymandering as corrupt whether Democrats or Republicans practice it. But as more states contemplate laws updating voter rolls, we add this: At some point, non-voters must accept responsibility for their failure to act.
Monday the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, cleared the state of Ohio’s embattled system of keeping its voter rolls up to date. This prompted outrage, including from Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, who seemed to suggest that voting rolls should remain in mothballs: “The right to vote is not ‘use it or lose it.’ This decision will fuel the fire of voter suppressors across the country who want to make their chosen candidates win re-election, no matter what the voters say.”
Given that some Texas legislators have also discussed ways to better update voter rolls, the issue is relevant here. The Ohio system of keeping rolls up to date hardly strikes us as unfair, assuming individual responsibility counts for anything. State officials act only after a voter fails to vote for two years, sending a pre-addressed, postage-prepaid return card to verify the voter in question is still a resident. If the card is ignored, four more years must pass with no voter activity before the non-voter is finally removed from the rolls. In short, if one shows no voter activity for six years, he or she is assumed as having moved or worse. That’s hardly onerous.
As conservative Justice Samuel Alito noted in his ruling for the high court’s majority, an estimated 24 million voter registrations in the United States — about one in eight — are invalid or significantly inaccurate. This comes not from President Trump’s dubious sources on such matters but the far more credible Pew Center on the States. And some 2.75 million people are said to be registered in more than one state — an understandable likelihood given that more than 10 percent of Americans move a year.
In his decision, Justice Alito quotes from the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which sought to both increase voter registration and remove ineligible people from states’ individual voter rolls. Before the NVRA, some states simply purged voters from rolls without notice. So in one sense, the act signed into law by President Clinton puts in place certain protections for voters. And, again, if voters are repeatedly letting slide one of the very few duties that the Constitution begs of us — then that’s on delinquent and careless U.S. citizens, not the states.
That said, we hope lawmakers, federal judges and citizens remember the other part of this law: seeking out innovative ways to increase voter registration. For instance, in his Sunday column, Trib contributor Blake Burleson cites the state of Texas’ reluctance to allow motorists to register to vote when renewing driver’s licenses online. The matter is now bound for the appeals courts to settle, though it might help all if they remembered the other name given the National Voter Registration Act: the Motor Voter Law.