Wisconsin appeals court puts voter rolls purge on hold

Gregory Lewis, the leader of Souls to the Polls led a protest outside the Ozaukee County Courthouse in Port Washington, Wis., Monday, January 13, 2020, where Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy held state election officials in contempt of court for not following his order to remove thousands of people from the voters rolls. Before the courtroom session Gregory Lewis, the leader of Souls to the Polls led a protest outside the courthouse and spoke to media gathered. Protestors had tape over their mouths symbolizing their voices being silenced.

My barber, Christina, was beside herself.

I had no sooner sat down on the chair to have what's left of my hair trimmed, when she informed me she was "crabby."


She explained she had just visited myvote.wi.gov to check her voter registration. In light of all the fuss being kicked up by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty over the state's voting rolls, one of the other barbers at Monona Barber Shop urged her to do so just in case.

Good thing, because the search showed she wasn't registered at her Fitchburg voting site, where she has been voting for the past six years. That made her angry, because when she went to vote in 2016, her registration wasn't on file either. Thanks to a longtime Wisconsin law, she was able to register at the polls that year, but it took her two hours to do so, she said — something she doesn't want to go through again.

Although it wasn't the WILL lawsuit to purge nearly 240,000 names from Wisconsin voting rolls that caused Christina's problem, it's exactly what this law firm hopes will happen to others like her. They will throw up their hands in frustration and say, to heck with it. Most of them, of course, will be poor and elderly.

Rick Esenberg and the rest of his staff at WILL have long been in cahoots with Wisconsin Republicans to suppress the vote, whether it be voter ID, fewer days and hours for absentee voting or now, purging voting lists because people have either moved or didn't take the time to return a postcard to confirm their address.

In other words, make people jump through hoops to exercise what should be an easy, simple task in a free, democratic country. Voting in the United States is a sacred right and, personally, I can't think of anything more despicable than those among us who would deny Americans that right.

But, it became a common phenomenon the past decade, when the GOP was able to capture complete control of most of the country's statehouses. Their first order of business was to make their control as permanent as possible. First, by gerrymandering legislative districts to practically guarantee Republican majorities, and then, by weeding out voters most likely to vote for the other guys.

Remarkably, right here in Wisconsin, a spokesman for the Donald Trump 2020 campaign publicly admitted that Republicans have relied on voter suppression and are proud of it. Expect more, and some intimidation at the polls in the future, he proclaimed.

WILL is a tax-free non-profit that always has plenty of money to haul people and government institutions into court. It gets it from the right-wing Bradley Foundation and other wealthy families and corporate interests. It was laughingly founded to "serve the public interest," but has marched lockstep with the special interests, ranging from the voucher school movement to the many causes espoused by the corporate lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

As always, the attack on the voting rolls is "justified" to keep our elections honest and fraud-free. But, as always, the likes of WILL and its GOP allies in the state Legislature have never been able to show evidence of voting fraud in Wisconsin. Ironically, in the handful of incidents where a voter tried to vote more than once, they turned out to be voting for Republicans.

So, just as barber Christina did, check your voter registration, just in case. It's easy to do right from your smartphone. Don't let the suppressors get their way.

Editor's note: A cartoon previously published with this column was determined to be in poor taste and has been removed.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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