Ohio and Mississippi lawmakers are partnering to fight voter purging in Mississippi. The Mississippi legislature is advancing a copycat of an Ohio “use it or lose it” purge process and Ohioans are offering a strong cautionary tale and shining a light on key details that Mississippi must consider.
“It’s sad that Mississippi is looking for new ways to disenfranchise its voters and Ohio is their model," said Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes. "This is not a proud moment for the Buckeye state. Ohio activists and lawmakers have fought this voter purge battle for years. It has disenfranchised and removed millions of still-eligible Ohio voters from participating in our democracy. I hope the Mississippi legislature does not follow this path of voter destruction.”
"The legislature is threatening to take away the rights of hard-working Mississippi voters and will make a mess of election administration in the process," said Mississippi Representative Zakiya Summers, a former election commissioner for Hinds County, who expressed deep concern about the bill. During the bill hearing, committee leadership did not allow her to offer any amendments. "Imagine missing one Presidential Election and losing your right to vote in the next one. This is not who Mississippi should be in 2021.”
“We can protect the right to vote and clean up the voter rolls,” explained Mississippi Senator David Blount. “The right to vote includes the right not to vote. We will present a plan to clean up the rolls by removing names of people who have died or moved away. No one should be purged for not voting.”
The bills of concern – Senate Bill 2588 and House Bill 4, which passed out of committee on January 26 and 28, respectively – could create the most punitive voter purge mandate in the country and would make voting a use-it-or-lose-it right. Individuals who do not vote for two years would have to undergo a confirmation process or risk being purged from the rolls. Tens of thousands of voters who regularly sit out midterm elections could be trapped in a constant cycle of disenfranchisement.
Ohio began targeting infrequent voters for purging in 1995 after the National Voter Registration Act took effect. The Republican Secretary of State at the time took advantage of a gap in Ohio law that left the purge targeting to him. Existing Ohio law required notifying voters before removal for valid reasons such as death and leaving the state. But he invented a new reason to target voters: infrequent voting. That discretionary process has been in place ever since and millions of Ohioans have been removed from the rolls for not responding to a postcard or voting frequently enough. Mississippi’s proposed laws go even further and would require the removal of any voter who doesn’t vote in four years.
While Mississippi’s bill sponsors have invoked Ohio’s use of this policy as justification, they have failed to acknowledge that Ohio has finally backed down from purging people for not voting in every election. After intense pressure from lawmakers and activists, starting this year, Ohio will no longer be purging people for infrequent voting. In other words, the voter purge practice that Mississippi proposes to model has already been discredited and shut down.