Voter purge is illegal in battleground Ohio, says federal appeals court

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that Ohio is illegally removing voters from its registration list, an important decision that could make tens of thousands of Ohioans able to vote in the critical battleground state on Nov. 8.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a federal district judge’s decision that the policy was lawful, reported the Associated Press. The Department of Justice weighed in on the case in July, arguing the policy violated the law.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, directed his office to remove voters from eligibility if they had not voted in a federal election since 2008. The Ohio American Civil Liberties Union and liberal policy group Demos filed a lawsuit in April to stop the policy, arguing that Husted was violating the National Voter Registration Act.

WATCH: Why Ohio has purged at least 200,000 from the voter rolls

“We are very pleased about the decision from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals,” ACLU Ohio senior policy director Mike Brickner told the NewsHour. “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 said 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.”

It is unclear exactly how many voters were removed from the voter lists. Brickner says the number is between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands.

The NewsHour’s own research showed that at least 200,000 people have been removed from voter rolls under the policy. An investigation by the Cincinnati Enquirer found that many of Ohio’s 88 counties have different policies for removing voters from their lists and that Husted did not know how many voters had been removed from the list statewide.

President Obama received 103,481 more votes than Mitt Romney in 2012 to win Ohio’s 18 electoral college votes. That state has voted for the winner of the presidential race in every year since 1960, and no Republican has won the White House without winning there.

Brickner said it will be up to a federal district judge on how to restore voters to the registration list and the Ohio ACLU asked that the state restore voters to the list or allow those removed to vote with a provisional ballot on election day.

Husted could appeal the decision to the entire 6th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court. The secretary said he will appeal if any remedy requires his office to reinstate voters who have died or moved out of the state.