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The state Elections Commission on Monday is scheduled to take up a motion that could help it address a lawsuit filed by a conservative group over the commission’s handling of polling lists.

The commission is set to vote on whether to ask the Republican-controlled state Legislature to issue it guidance, either through administrative rules or by passing a new law, for the procedure it uses when it sends out mailings to voters who may have moved.

The commission faces a lawsuit by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, or WILL, that alleges the commission has violated state-mandated policies related to “movers,” voters who report an official government transaction from an address different from their voter registration address.

The commission faces the action because it did not remove from the list some 234,000 people who may have moved.

Conservative group filing lawsuit against state elections commission's voter eligibility policy

Wisconsin is one of 29 states that participates in the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, which flags movers. The commission reviews the information to ensure accuracy.

The commission sends notice to the mover at the address listed with their voter registration information. According to state law, voters who fail to confirm an address within the 30-day period should be listed as ineligible to vote. The law allows eligible voters who still live at the address to challenge the determination.

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In 2017, WEC mailed postcards to about 343,000 voters flagged by ERIC as potential movers. More than 300,000 people did not respond and were identified as ineligible to vote, but that prompted complaints from voters who argued their registration information was current.

In October, the commission announced it had mailed letters to about 234,000 registered voters who may have moved recently. To address the 2017 complications, recipients this year will remain on the active poll list until after the April 2021 spring election instead of being removed after 30 days. After the April election, people who have not voted or re-registered will have their registration deactivated.

The commission insists it is following the law even though it isn’t removing flagged registrations after 30 days. It says the law governing the removal of “movers” from the polling lists is directed toward municipal clerks, not the commission. Additionally, the commission argues that a potential mover failing to respond to a mailing doesn’t satisfy the law’s requirement of “reliable information” necessary to remove that voter from the polling list.

Wisconsin Elections Commission staff argue state law doesn’t provide state and municipal officials with enough guidance for how to process voters who may have moved once mailings are sent. They recommend commissioners ask the Legislature to specify in law what the procedure should be after mailings are sent and what the consequences should be for voters who don’t respond to ERIC mailings.

Conservative group files complaint against elections commission's voter eligibility policy

In a statement, WILL president Rick Esenberg blasted the commission, contending it is shirking its responsibility for administering state law requiring voters be removed from the rolls.

“The Wisconsin Elections Commission is charged with responsibility for administering chapter 6 of the statutes,” Esenberg said. “Its argument that the requirements of chapter 6 do not apply to it flies in the face of this statutory duty and is belied by its own behavior. If it is not obligated to remove movers from the rolls, then why is it acting at all? WEC cannot cherry pick from the law and exercise the duties it wants while avoiding the obligations it does not.”

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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