FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - The ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday that upheld the Ohio law that allows voters to be purged from the rolls if they haven’t cast ballots in six years angered Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
On a 5-4 vote that split the conservative and liberal members of the court, the justices rejected the argument that the purging practice in Ohio violates a federal law meant to increase the number of registered voters.
Under the Ohio law, voters who don’t go to the polls for two consecutive years are sent a letter, asking them to confirm they are still living at the same address.
If there is no reply, and the voter stays away from the polls for four more years, they are purged from the system and would have to re-register to become eligible to vote again.
“Over the last five years, key Supreme Court decisions have undermined the franchise of millions of Americans,” Grimes said. “First with the Voting Rights Act and today with giving the green light to an atrocious use-it-or-lose-it approach to voter registration. Now, it is up to voters to elect officials who will defend voting rights unequivocally.
"As long as I am Kentucky's Secretary of State, I will keep my promise to protect and defend every Kentuckian's right to vote, and our Board of Elections will never remove any voter from our rolls for simply not casting a ballot – period."
In a related development, the State Board of Elections announced Monday afternoon they had reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and conservative legal group Judicial Watch, regarding Kentucky's maintenance of voter rolls. Judicial Watch had alleged Kentucky's rolls were out of date.
Bradford Queen, a spokesman for Grimes, said, “On the heels of the Supreme Court's decision today greenlighting Ohio's use-it-or-lose-it strategy for the removal of voters, Kentuckians can rest assured Secretary Grimes and the State Board of Elections will not waver in their dedication to protecting Kentuckians' fundamental right to vote. Under the Grimes administration, unlike others, voters have never been unilaterally kicked off the rolls, especially for simply not voting, and that will not change.”
Queen said Kentucky has properly removed nearly half a million voters since 2011.
“The DOJ and Judicial Watch both now rightly recognize maintenance of Kentucky's rolls requires proper funding. The General Assembly should be on notice that it cannot continue to underfund Kentucky elections,” he said. “This agreement makes it abundantly clear – and the DOJ and Judicial Watch both agree – Kentucky has and will continue to be diligent in ensuring its voter rolls are accurate while protecting voters' rights."
In 2006, the State Board of Elections and then-Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson faced legal action for unilaterally removing voters from the rolls. Franklin Circuit Judge Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled Grayson and the State Board of Elections illegally removed more than 8,100 Kentucky voters from the rolls. The Court found that Kentucky may not purge voters based only on inference – not proof – that a vote has moved out of Kentucky.
In January 2017, a review by Kentucky Today found that 38 of Kentucky’s 120 counties had more people registered to vote than they have residents 18 and older.
The discrepancies, identified by comparing the latest voter rolls with population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, were found across the state, popping up in both urban and rural counties.