WILL files lawsuit demanding Wisconsin purge voter rolls

By: - November 14, 2019 8:42 am
Scrabble tiles spell "vote"

Scrabble tiles (photo courtesy of Pixabay).

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty announced on Wednesday that is is suing the Wisconsin Elections Commission for not purging the voter rolls of voters who may have moved to a new address.

The action could affect 234,000 registered Wisconsin voters who may have moved, by insisting that they be taken off the voting rolls until they re-register. 

WILL filed a complaint in October alleging that voters who did not respond to notices that information from the multi-state Electronic Information Registration Information Center (ERIC) showing they had moved were not changed from eligible to ineligible voting status after 30 days, as the group asserts is required by Wisconsin law.

The Elections Commission dismissed the complaint.

“The Commission is confident that is is complying with Wisconsin law,” commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said in a statement responding to WILL’s complaint. “The Legislature has not enacted any specific processes for the Commission or local election officials to deal with information about voters which the state receives from ERIC,” she added.

That response prompted the current lawsuit, which WILL filed in Ozaukee County Circuit Court.

“The Wisconsin Election Commission was warned in October that they were acting contrary to state law by allowing voter registrations at old addresses to remain active beyond 30 days,” WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg said in a statement. “Instead of reversing course, the Wisconsin Election Commission has stubbornly doubled down. This lawsuit is about accountability, the rule of law, and clean and fair elections.”

“Wisconsin must maintain accurate and up-to-date voter registrations precisely because our state has made it easy to vote and easy to register,” a WILL press release on the lawsuit added.

The advocacy group One Wisconsin Now accused WILL of filing the lawsuit in order to help conservative Wisconsin Ssupreme Court Justice Dan Kelly win the April election.

“There is no low to which the right-wing won’t go to rig the rules to try to get the election result they want,” One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director Analiese Eicher said in a statement. “They think fewer voters showing up in Spring 2020 will help them elect Dan Kelly and they know what they’re doing will result in legal, registered voters erroneously getting thrown off poll lists.”

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 explained that it 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.

Furthermore, the commission pointed out, the letter to movers did not say they would be purged from the rolls if they did not respond within 30 days. Because WILL’s complaint demands that voters be taken off the roles, “the delayed filing of the complaint also prejudices the rights of those recipients who are not on notice of that consequence for failing to respond.”

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Her book "Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers" won the 2022 Studs and Ida Terkel Award from The New Press.