League of Women Voters files motion to intervene in voter roll purge

    (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

    Responding to a lawsuit that seeks to purge 234,000 Wisconsin voters who might have changed addresses from the voting rolls, the League of Women Voters filed a motion last Friday to intervene in Ozaukee County Circuit Court.

    The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed the lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) for not purging the rolls of voters who were sent a notice that information from the multi-state Electronic Information Registration Information Center (ERIC) showed they had moved. Those voters who did not respond to the notice within 30 days must be purged from the rolls, WILL argued in a complaint filed in October alleging that the Elections Commission had violated Wisconsin law.  

    The Elections Commission dismissed the complaint, and WILL filed the current lawsuit on Nov. 13.

    A review of voter registration records by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) found that, due to the voter purge that began after Wisconsin joined ERIC in 2016, the number of registered voters in Wisconsin dropped by 697,363 between January 2017 and February 2018, “and that significantly more voters were purged from the rolls in Democratic-leaning counties than Republican-leaning counties.”

    As part of the ERIC program, the state sent postcards to voters who were suspected of moving. Ninety percent of voters did not respond to the cards, CMD reported, and were purged from the rolls — even if they had not actually moved. 

    Because of the high number of wrongful voter purges, the Elections Commission adjusted its approach in 2019.

    “When setting policies for dealing with the 2019 mailing to voters who may have moved, the Commission based its decisions on lessons learned from the 2017 movers mailing,” the commission stated in a response to the WILL complaint.

    In its brief seeking to intervene as a defendant in the case, The League of Women Voters argues that “the ERIC ‘movers’ list relies on flawed, undifferentiated address data from the Wisconsin DMV.”

    The WILL lawsuit is based on a statute that requires “reliable information” of a residential address change, the League points out. The group argues that “the data Wisconsin election officials are using is not reliable.” 

    “Based on prior experience and WEC and DMV’s failure to identify any new procedures to differentiate address data,” the brief continues, “the 2019-2020 ERIC ‘movers’ list likely once again contains a substantial amount of unreliable and demonstrably inaccurate information.”

    The League argues that it should be allowed to intervene “because of its interests in maximizing voter participation through registration and protecting registered voters’ rights.”

    If allowed to become a defendant in the suit, the organization will move to have WILL’s lawsuit dismissed.

    Ruth Conniff
    Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine, and opened the Progressive’s office in Washington, DC, during the Clinton Administration, where she made her debut as a political pundit on CNN’s Capital Gang Sunday and Fox News. She moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, for a year in 2017, where she covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Donald Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on All in with Chris Hayes on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, and other radio and television programs. In 2011, she did award-winning coverage of the uprising against Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Conniff graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal.