America’s second president, John Adams, waxed cynical when it came to the subject of democracy. “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide,” he wrote in 1814. A decision last week by the U.S. Supreme Court marks a big step toward that end.

The court ruled 5-4 that states may remove citizens from the voting rolls if they skip some elections and ignore participation notices mailed by election officials. The decision advanced the GOP goal of reducing the ranks of voters most likely to vote Democratic, thereby increasing the chances of future GOP election victories.

The state of Ohio has been aggressive in purging its voter rolls by striking non-participants who fail to respond when state officials send notices seeking to confirm their eligibility. All it takes is one skipped federal election cycle for a voter to receive a notice from the state. If the voter fails to participate in the next four-year cycle, his or her name is stricken from the rolls.

We believe that governments should be active in encouraging voter participation. Democracy dies when citizens are discouraged or distracted from involvement in how they’re governed. Part of the citizen’s responsibility rests in staying informed by reading newspapers and keeping abreast of what elected officials are doing. But we would be the last to say that citizens should have their names purged from voting rolls simply because other priorities took precedence.

The goal should be to make voting easier so that more people participate and democracy can flourish. Various GOP-led states, including Ohio, seem intent on making the process more cumbersome by imposing voter-ID laws that result in some people being denied their right to vote. Statistically, it’s minority voters who most often wind up being declared ineligible, and those voters tend to favor the Democratic Party.

A lower appeals court had ruled that Ohio’s procedures violated the rights of Larry Harmon, a software engineer and Navy veteran who had skipped the 2012 presidential election along with midterm elections in 2010 and 2014. He tried to vote in a 2015 referendum on legalizing marijuana but was told his name had been stricken from voting rolls. The Supreme Court overturned the appeals panel ruling, with the conservative majority upholding Ohio’s right to impose whatever rules and restrictions it wants provided no federal law is broken in the process.

The effect no doubt will be to encourage further efforts by GOP-led states to devise new tactics to suppress the votes of likely Democratic voters, citing exaggerated claims of fighting voter fraud or the need to update election rolls.

The ultimate effect, however, is to achieve dominance by one party by stifling political competition — and fulfill John Adams’ prophecy.

Editorial by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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