Gavel and scale (copy)

If the American people reach a consensus on anything, it is our politics are too polarized. We falsely believe that every election is existential and while we all say that we love America, many of us seem to hate that half of the America who are on “the other side.”

How does this happen?

Neither side is free of blame, but a recent political cartoon by Mike Konopacki accompanying a column by Dave Zweifel in the Capital Times is instructive. Their target is a lawsuit filed by my organization, The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), which seeks to force the Wisconsin Elections Commission to take certain steps to deactivate outdated registrations of people who have moved from — and are no longer eligible to vote at — addresses at which they are registered. I am depicted as a hangman holding and surrounded by nooses. You can vote, I say, but only if you jump through some hoops. The unmistakable subtext is a lynching.

Our case does not seek to deny anyone the opportunity to vote. It is possible that a relatively small number of people who have not actually moved will have to return a prepaid postcard saying so or, if they fail to do that, re-register to vote online, by mail or at the polls on Election Day. But they will all get to vote. To say that what we are doing is somehow the moral or metaphorical equivalent of having a mob pull you from your home and hang you from a tree is fever swamp insanity. It turns a relatively technical disagreement about the trade-offs between the ease of voting and election integrity into an overwrought drama about voter suppression and the future of “democracy.” It trivializes real evil and portrays everyday political opponents as monsters.

It is this type of vile and disgusting hyperbole — far more than Russian bots or inscrutable “dog whistles” — that has us at each other’s throats. Before people like Zweifel and Konopacki engage in unctuous and performative throat clearing about social justice, they need — to paraphrase the left — to check their own hatred. It may just be that their enemy can be found in the mirror.

Let me explain what our case is about. Wisconsin participates in a consortium called the Elections Registration Information Center established in association with the Pew Charitable Trusts. ERIC, as it is known, uses data matching techniques to identify persons who appear to have moved from the addresses at which they are registered. Voters get on the ERIC “movers” list by providing an address other than the one they are registered at in an official government transaction. In other words, the source of the information is the voter.

The Wisconsin Elections Commissions agrees that the ERIC movers list is largely accurate. The overwhelming majority of voters who it identifies as having moved have, in fact, moved. As a result, they are no longer eligible to vote at their old addresses. Removing their outdated registrations does not “purge” voters; it is an effort to comply with federal and state requirements to maintain accurate voter rolls in the interest of election efficiency and to reduce the opportunity for fraud.

The movers list is not perfect. No method of maintaining ballot integrity and accurate voter rolls ever will be. A small percentage of persons on the list may not have moved. No one knows what that percentage is, but we think, based on past experience, that the percentage of voters listed as movers who have actually moved is on the order of 94-96%.

We do not argue that anyone listed as a mover be automatically stricken from the rolls. State law provides a number of safeguards for those who may not have moved. It requires that voters identified as movers be informed of the fact and given an opportunity to continue their registrations. If they fail to do so, they may re-register by mail or online prior to the election. If they forget to do that (or overlook the notice), they can re-register when they go to vote on Election Day.

When it comes to ballot integrity, voter rights are on both sides of the balance. Even isolated voter fraud cancels lawful votes. When it comes to convenience at the polls, having multiple people registered at the same address is a bad idea. We can disagree about how best to deal with these issues. We can argue about what the law requires.

But to treat the other side as criminals, fascists, Jim Crow-racists or deplorables generates all heat and no light. It is a perfect example of what is wrong with us today.

Rick Esenberg is the founder, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

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