WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to decide whether Ohio wrongfully purged eligible voters from the state’s registration list.

The justices said they will hear an appeal from state officials defending the process against challengers who say it’s illegal.

Civil liberties groups had challenged the state’s program for removing thousands of people from voter rolls based on their failure to vote in recent elections. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled last year that the process violates the National Voter Registration Act.

Ohio officials argue that the process used by Ohio for more than 20 years is constitutional and fully complies with state and federal laws.

Groups challenging the practice said Ohio was unfairly disenfranchising eligible Ohio voters.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the New York-based public advocacy group Demos sued Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted over the practice last year.

Following the appeals court ruling, a federal district court entered an injunction for the November 2016 presidential election that allowed more than 7,500 Ohio voters to cast a ballot.

Freda Levenson, Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio, said purging voters simply because they have exercised their right not to vote is a form of voter suppression.

“We are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the correct decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and will ultimately ensure that eligible Ohio voters may not be stricken from the rolls,” she said.

Husted, a Republican, said that maintaining the integrity of the voter rolls is essential to fair, efficient elections. He said he was encouraged that the high court was taking up the case.

“I remain confident that once the justices review this case they will rule to uphold the decades-old process that both Republicans and Democrats have used in Ohio to maintain our voter rolls as consistent with federal law,” he said in a statement.


Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.