UPDATE: Wisconsin judge orders up to 209K voter names be deleted

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FILE – In this Nov. 6, 2018 file photo, people vote at Jamestown Town Hall in Kieler, Wis. Conservatives are asking a judge to find the Wisconsin Elections Commission in contempt for not immediately purging more than 200,000 voters from the rolls. A judge last month ordered the purge of voters who may have moved and didn’t respond within 30 days to notification sent by the elections commission in October 2019. (Nicki Kohl/Telegraph Herald via AP, File)

MONDAY 1/13/20 12:41 p.m.

PORT WASHINGTON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge on Monday ordered the state’s elections commission to immediately begin removing up to 209,000 names from the state’s voter rolls or face hundreds of dollars in fines for each day they don’t do so.

Judge Paul Malloy said in his ruling that “time is of the essence in this case” and cannot wait for an Appeals Court or the state Supreme Court to decide the case. He also appeared peeved that commissioners hadn’t already begun purging voters.

“I cannot be clearer on this. They need to follow the order,” Malloy said.

The state Justice Department asked Malloy to stay his order of contempt pending an appeal of his ruling, but the judge denied the request. Malloy held in contempt the six-person commission and its three members who dissented in the case. But only the three dissenters will each face the $250 fine every day they don’t comply, not the other three members. The commission as a whole, however, faces $50 fines every day the purge doesn’t happen.

The commission asked appeals courts to put the ruling on hold while the legal fight continues, but none of the courts have done so. Malloy said that’s irrelevant to his ruling.

“You have this court order, you have an appeal, and a petition to the Supreme Court. But nothing has told this court that it can’t act,” Malloy said.

The case is being closely watched, as Wisconsin is battleground state that President Donald Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. Democrats are fighting the lawsuit, saying the purge would unfairly affect their voters. Republicans say they merely want to ensure that people who have moved are not able to vote from their old addresses.

Those bringing the lawsuit argue that the state elections commission, which includes an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, broke the law when it did not remove voters from the rolls who did not respond within 30 days to a mailing in October indicating they may have moved.

The commission wanted to wait until after the November 2020 presidential election before it removed anyone because of inaccuracies with a previous round of data identifying voters who had potentially moved. Even if a voter has their registration deactivated, they can register again later or on Election Day when they show up at the polls, assuming they have the required documentation.

Malloy last month sided with conservatives who filed the lawsuit and ordered that the voters have their registrations deactivated. The elections commission has deadlocked on when to do that, however.

The appeals court said it wouldn’t take action because of the pending request before the state Supreme Court that it takes the case. The high court has not said what it will do.

The affected voters come more heavily from Democratic areas of Wisconsin, including Milwaukee and cities with college campuses. Democrats fear forcing voters whose registration was nullified to re-register would create a burden on them and hurt turnout. Republicans argue that removing the voters would ensure that the rolls are not full of people who shouldn’t be voting.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin also filed a federal lawsuit to stop the purge. That lawsuit argues that it would be a violation of constitutional due process rights to deactivate the registrations of the voters without proper notice. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and the Republican-controlled Legislature are both seeking to intervene i n that lawsuit and have it dismissed.

Conservatives seek immediate purge of voters in Wisconsin

THURSDAY 1/2/20 11:55 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A conservative law firm on Thursday asked a judge to find the Wisconsin Elections Commission in contempt and fine its members $2,000 a day until it immediately purges more than 200,000 voters from the rolls, a move Democrats are fighting in the key battleground state.

A judge last month ordered the purge of voters who may have moved and didn’t respond within 30 days to notification sent by the elections commission in October. The bipartisan commission has deadlocked twice on attempts by Republicans to do the purge immediately while an appeal to the court order is pending.

Rick Esenberg, leader of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty that brought the lawsuit, said the commission must purge the voters now. The judge in December ruled that the commission was breaking state law by not removing voters who did not respond to the October mailing asking that they confirm their address.

“Court orders are not suggestions,” Esenberg said on WISN-AM. “They are not rendered inoperative by the fact that you filed an appeal.”

Esenberg filed a motion Thursday in Ozaukee County Court asking the judge to fine five of the six commissioners $2,000 a day for being in contempt of the order. The motion does not name one of the three Republicans on the commission who was not on the panel when the legal fight began. Commission spokesman Reid Magney had no immediate comment. Gillian Drummond, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, which is defending the commission, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The affected voters come more heavily from Democratic areas of Wisconsin, a key state in the 2020 presidential election. President Donald Trump narrowly won the state in 2016 by fewer than 23,000 votes and Wisconsin is expected to again be one of the most hotly contested states this year.

Democrats fear forcing voters whose registration was nullified to re-register would create a burden on them and hurt turnout. Republicans argue that removing the voters would ensure that the rolls are not full of people who shouldn’t be voting.

Esenberg’s group has asked that the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court immediately take the state’s appeal of the case. The case is currently before a state appeals court. The commission has asked the appeals court to put the original ruling on hold, but it has not yet acted. The Supreme Court has not said yet whether it will take the case.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin also has filed a federal lawsuit to stop the purge. That lawsuit argues that it would be a violation of constitutional due process rights to deactivate the registrations of the voters without proper notice.

The elections commission in October mailed about 232,500 voters to tell them records indicated they had moved and they needed to verify that the address where they were registered to vote was current. Of those, about 209,000 have not requested continuation at their current address or re-registered at another one.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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