By Catherine Candisky

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed suit Wednesday against Secretary of State Jon Husted, arguing that he is illegally removing eligible voters from voter registration rolls.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus, comes seven months before voters will head to the polls to elect a new president. It alleges that Husted is violating the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 by canceling the registrations of voters who do not vote in three successive federal elections or in the intervening local elections. The practice, attorneys argue, disproportionately affects homeless and other marginalized voters.

"We have spoken to purged voters from around the state of Ohio who tried to vote in the November 2015 local election and were turned away," said Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio. "The already widespread disenfranchisement that has resulted from this process is likely to be much worse in a presidential election year."

In Cleveland's Cuyahoga County, 40,000 voters were "unlawfully purged," attorneys claimed.

Husted, a Republican, said the lawsuit was "politically motivated, election-year politics (and) a waste of taxpayer dollars."

He insisted that he maintains the state voter rolls in compliance with state and federal laws as well as an agreement with the same federal court four years ago stemming from a similar legal complaint.

"Voter rolls with deceased voters and people who've moved out-of-state have long contributed to the problems of voter fraud, long lines and discarded ballots," Husted said. "In 2011, there were several Ohio counties with more registered voters than eligible voters."

In recent years, Husted's office has removed 465,000 deceased voters and 1.3 million duplicate registrations from Ohio's voter rolls.

Wednesday's lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Ohio A. Phillip Randolph Institute and Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, asks the court to halt the practice and order purged voters returned to the rolls.

Ohio and other states have been working to clean up their voter rolls under requirements of the National Voter Registration Act, known as the "motor voter law."

Practices vary state to state. In Ohio, if a person did not vote in 2009 and 2010, the county board of elections sent the person a notice in 2011. If the person failed to verify his or her status and did not vote in any election through 2014, the county board was told to remove the person from the voting rolls in 2015.

Husted spokesman Joshua Eck said secretaries of state dating back to Bob Taft in the 1990s, and including Democrat Jennifer Brunner, have followed similar practices to identify voters who are no longer eligible.

(c)2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)