Cooper Calls on Congress to Protect Voting Rights as Supreme Court Hears Ohio Purging Case

Jan 10, 2018
Press Release
Congressman Notes Similar Issues in Tennessee

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) today criticized Congress for neglecting to protect the American right to vote and effectively outsourcing the issue to the courts. This includes a major Supreme Court voter “purging” case that could have lasting impact in Tennessee.

“Roadblocks to the polls threaten our democracy,” Rep. Cooper said. “Congress should make it easier for our citizens to vote everywhere in America. It’s our responsibility to ensure free and fair elections, and to provide the proper guidelines for states.”

Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a landmark voting rights case challenging whether Ohio’s voter registration and purging rules violate federal law. Among the most aggressive laws of its kind in America, the contested Ohio statute removes voters from registration rolls if they do not vote in two consecutive elections and if they don’t respond to a notice from the state.

Tennessee’s rules were nearly identical to Ohio’s until last year.

For years, the Volunteer State punished infrequent voters by using the failure to vote as a way to eliminate them from official registration rolls. The National Voter Registration Act states that a voter cannot be purged merely for a failure to vote. Last year, after the Sixth Circuit sided with voting rights organizations aligned against Ohio’s voter list maintenance process, Tennessee amended its law in order to be in compliance with federal law. According to the relevant bill’s sponsor, the Tennessee legislature took action to “ensure we’re in compliance with the federal law.”

But Tennessee joined an amicus brief in support of Ohio in the Supreme Court case heard today – indicating its preference for purging voters if they don’t exercise their right to vote – and state officials have done nothing to restore unlawfully purged voters, possibly reaching into hundreds of thousands of people.

Rep. Cooper strongly opposes such purging policies, and voting rights advocates have described purging as “very likely to be the next big method of voter suppression.”