Mischief likely to result from GOP guidance on voter roll purge

What is the Elections Commission thinking?

'Respect our vote' Capitol protest motion copy (Creative Commons 2.0)
'Respect our vote' Capitol protest motion copy (Creative Commons 2.0)

The Wisconsin Elections Commission is asking the state legislature to get involved in a dispute over right-wing Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) efforts to force a voter roll purge in advance of the April 2020 elections.

Given the near decade long assault on voter rights by the Republicans who control the state Senate and Assembly, you have to wonder, what were the commissioners thinking?

Just one year ago, as part of their post-2018 election sore loser session, Republicans led by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald proposed moving the date of Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential primary so it would not coincide with an important Supreme Court race. In order to bolster conservative Justice Dan Kelly’s chances of keeping his seat, they proposed creating three separate spring election dates, at a cost of millions of dollars to taxpayers.

That effort failed, along with their scheme to re-impose strict limits on early voting with measures that were nearly identical to laws previously struck down by a federal judge, who found them to be intentionally discriminatory on the basis of race. 

Previously, in a federal voting rights lawsuit brought by One Wisconsin Institute and other voting rights advocates, a former state legislative aide testified under oath that some Republican legislators were “giddy” at the thought of their efforts reducing voting by people who tended to oppose them.

Voter roll purges are a well worn tactic utilized by the right wing, intended to create confusion and delays at polling locations and erect barriers to electoral participation. Communities of color and students are often the targets of these schemes. 

In 2017, a voter list maintenance program incorrectly triggered the removal of tens of thousands of Wisconsin voters from the rolls. According to media reports, 21,000 City of Milwaukee voters, nearly half of the city residents flagged for removal, had their registrations restored because it was determined they had not moved.

With the latest round of list maintenance, the Wisconsin Elections Commission has extended the period for voters to either update their registrations to reflect a new address or notify the commission that they have not moved until after the 2020 election cycle. The largest numbers of voters flagged to receive the most recent Elections Commission mailing are in Milwaukee and Madison.

But instead of this sensible pro-voter participation policy proposed by the Elections Commission, WILL has gone to court to try to force a purge in 30 days, knowing that if they win it is highly likely that significant numbers of legal voters will erroneously have their registrations deactivated.

There’s no guarantee the Elections Commission would prevail in court. But inviting the meddling of Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald means more electoral mischief, not solutions, from legislators who have shown no conscience when it comes to rigging the rules to give themselves an unfair advantage.