Supreme Court appears sympathetic to Ohio voter-purge effort

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court appeared sympathetic today to states that seek to prune their voting rolls by targeting people who haven't voted in a while.

In a case from Ohio, opponents of the practice called it a violation of a federal law that was intended to increase the ranks of registered voters. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said minorities and homeless people appear to be disproportionately kicked off the rolls.

But the court's conservatives and possibly also Justice Stephen Breyer indicated they would uphold the state's effort.

Ohio is among a handful of states that use voters' inactivity to trigger a process that could lead to their removal from voter rolls. A ruling for Ohio could prompt other states to adopt the practice, which generally pits Democrats against Republicans.

Signaling support for Ohio's defense of the process, Justice Anthony Kennedy said states are "trying to protect their voter rolls. ... What we're talking about are the best tools to implement that reason, to implement that purpose." Kennedy's vote often is decisive in voting cases that otherwise split conservative and liberal justices.

Breyer repeatedly pressed the lawyer for opponents of the process, but had no questions for the lawyer representing Ohio.

The opponents say the 1993 National Voter Registration Act prohibits using voting inactivity to trigger purges and that Ohio purges registered voters who are still eligible to vote. A federal appeals court sided with the challengers.

Partisan fights over ballot access are being fought across the country. Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to suppress votes from minorities and poorer people who tend to vote for Democrats. Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud.

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