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General News    H3'ed 3/26/09

More than a million Ohio voters purged in run up to 2008 election Republican Party wanted 800,000 more purged

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NEW FREE PRESS STUDY REVEALS: More than a million Ohio voters purged in run up to 2008 election – Republican Party wanted 800,000 more purged
March 25, 2009

Ohio election officials purged more than a million voters between the 2004 and 2008 elections. The number is three times that of voters purged between the 2000 and 2004 elections in that key swing state.

The Free Press Election Protection Project requested data from Boards of Elections in all of Ohio’s 88 counties. A detailed analysis of the records reveals shocking and unprecedented purges. The total number of people whose names were removed from the voting rolls is a stunning 1.25 million.

The Ohio data shows enormous disparities in the number of people purged in different categories from county to county. These results suggest obvious violations of equal protection and due process. The documents demonstrate that the voting rights of a million Ohioans were destroyed based on the arbitrary whims of local election officials. Purging appears to be subject to widely diverse interpretations of state and federal laws by different Ohio Board of Elections officials.

Despite being the only organization in Ohio to conduct of statewide study of voter purges, Free Press staffers were not invited to present the results at the second statewide Ohio Election Conference convened by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in March 2009.

One of the study’s most troubling findings was that Hamilton County knocked 37,465 reported felons off the voting list. The next largest number came from Franklin County, which is larger than Hamilton County, with 2,174. Hamilton County became infamous in the 2004 election for wrongly telling former felons that they weren’t eligible to vote unless a judge signed off. Ohio uses the “in/out” rule in regards to felons: those in prison cannot vote; those out of prison can vote, even if on probation or in a halfway house.

Hamilton County’s felon purge constituted 80% of all Ohio’s total. In the past, some counties mistakenly purged people only indicted, but not convicted of felonies. After a Free Press investigation, Franklin County admitted to this practice prior to the 2004 election.

Those suffering a “mental incident” can be purged as well, especially in Fayette County. Out of 307 voters stripped of their voting rights because of psychological problems, 283 were from Fayette County – more than 92% of the state’s reported total.

Altogether, 220,000 voters were purged due to death or moving. There were 137,550 voters who moved from one county to another and were justifiably eliminated as they were merged into their new county’s voting roll. Another 93,178 voters deleted due to death, leaving more than a million eliminated for other or unknown reasons.

The largest single purge category, with 228,799 voters, was “failure to vote.” In Franklin County, home of Columbus, led the way with 116,000 purged voters – 51% of the total eliminated for not voting.

“Failure to vote” may have a different definition depending on which Ohio county you ask. Some counties purge if a voter fails to vote in federal elections for eight years straight. Other counties purge after failure to vote in federal elections every four years.

Only 47 Ohio counties offered specifics on the reasons for purging. Other counties simply reported a non-categorized total number of purges in response to the Free Press records request. The Republican stronghold of Warren County purged more than 52,000 people without explanation and Democratic Lucas County, home of Toledo, purged more than 24,000 for unknown causes. Many of Ohio’s counties refused to comply with the Free Press’ records request until after the election, and some complied only after legal pressure from the Secretary of State’s office.

Ohio does not have a uniform system for keeping track of purged voters. Shelby County and the historically corrupt Mahoning County refused to comply with Ohio’s public records law and provided no records. Sandusky County, despite assurances from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office that there is a statewide computer database linked to all counties, informed the Free Press that they only had paper records available for inspection on site and were incapable of transmitting electronic data.

One of the difficulties discussed at the March Election Conference is that there’s no statewide system for coding purges, making it unclear which counties remove people for death, felony conviction, failing to vote, or failing to respond to a notice from the Board of Elections.

Statewide Free Press Election Protection Project coordinator Connie Gadell-Newton noted in her preliminary assessment, “…even though a whopping 1.25 million records were removed, this doesn’t mean that 1.25 million people were disenfranchised or that 1.25 million individual people were removed from the voting rolls, since some voters may have been removed more than once if they moved from county to county multiple times.”

Initial studies indicate that 80% of purged voters who moved had moved within the county. Historically, Ohio voters who moved within the same county could cast their ballot at the county Board of Elections. In the run up to the 2008 election, 66,115 voters who moved within county were purged. Franklin County boasts 38% of the total. Fulton and Henry counties had only one each.

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