A conservative group has filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission for allegedly failing to follow state law in updating the voter rolls.
The action from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty could jeopardize the eligibility of more than 200,000 registered voters by quickly taking them off the rolls, thus not allowing them to cast ballots until they re-register.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Ozaukee County Circuit Court, came after WILL filed a complaint with the commission last month on behalf of three Wisconsin voters arguing commissioners illegally changed their practices for maintaining voter information, a decision that "was contrary to law and an abuse of discretion."
Elections Commission officials dismissed the complaint on Oct. 25, a decision the suit argued "was without basis in fact or law." But the commission decision countered the complaint "is not timely" because the body voted in June on the issue — four months before the complaint was filed.
WILL president and general counsel Rick Esenberg charged the commission "has stubbornly doubled down" on the issue.
"This lawsuit is about accountability, the rule of law, and clean and fair elections," he added.
An Elections Commission spokesman pointed to a past statement from Administrator Meagan Wolfe, who said at the time the body "is confident that it is complying with Wisconsin law."
The dispute stems over the requirements tied to the state's involvement in the Electronic Registration Information Center, an effort to identify voters who changed their address, moved out of state or died. State officials reach out to so-called "movers," or Wisconsin registered voters who told a different government agency they've recently moved to confirm their addresses.
If recipients fail to respond to the mailing within 30 days, according to the state statute WILL pointed to in its initial complaint, they become ineligible to vote and need to re-register in order to cast a ballot. But Wolfe has said the law only requires that Wisconsin join ERIC and doesn't specify how voter maintenance should be conducted.
Under the parameters, Wisconsin elections officials flagged 234,000 registered voters as “movers” and reached out to them in early October. But rather than removing them from the registered voter rolls within a month, the commission decided to instead keep them on an active list until after the April 2021 election.
At that time, those who haven't voted or re-registered would be deactivated. Voters in Wisconsin are able to register on Election Day.
Wolfe in her letter to WILL dismissing the complaint noted that the correspondences the commission sent to "movers" last month didn't warn them they'd be removed from the rolls after 30 days if they didn't respond.
"Given that the complaint specifically requests the deactivation of voter registrations of those individuals who do not respond to the Movers mailing within 30 days, 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 before they have another opportunity to vote," she wrote.
Wisconsin joined ERIC in 2016. In November 2017, the commission sent notices to around 343,000 "movers." That resulted in the removal of 308,000 voters who either didn’t respond to the notice or whose notices were returned as undeliverable.
But the system identified a few voters who should not have been removed from the list, which caused some controversy during the spring primary when some voters showed up at the polls and were told they needed to re-register.
The issue inspired the commission to change its policies for dealing with the 2019 "movers," Wolfe said in a past statement.
The WILL suit seeks to require the commission to change the registration status of any "movers" from eligible to ineligible if they didn't respond to the October notices within 30 days and acknowledgment that the commission failed to follow state law, among other things.