The conservative legal group leading a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s handling of the state’s voter rolls is calling on the commission to be held in contempt of court for failing to follow through with a controversial voter purge.
On Thursday, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty announced it is asking the circuit court to hold the Elections Commission in contempt and fine it up to $12,000 per day until it carries out Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy’s Dec. 17 order to purge from the voting rolls thousands of registered voters who may have moved to a different address.
The case is before a state appeals court, but the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court is likely to take it up.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, whose department represents the commission, slammed WILL’s legal action.
“DOJ strongly disagrees with WILL’s position,” Kaul said in a statement. “Both DOJ and WILL have already sought further review, and those motions are still pending. This case should not effectively be ended before the appeals process plays out.”
The motion to hold the commission in contempt comes after the commission’s three Republican-appointed members tried to approve the purge, but were blocked by the three Democrats on the commission. They want to wait for further direction from the courts before deactivating any voters.
Democrats argue the data flagging potential movers is unreliable, and that deactivating potential movers equates to infringing upon their right to vote. However, Wisconsin allows voters to register on election day if they bring a photo ID and proof of address. The purge would not prohibit anyone from voting.
Republicans on the commission want to follow Malloy’s order and immediately deactivate many potential movers. They argue that doing so follows the letter of the law and would clean up the voter rolls, increasing confidence in elections. However, cases of double-voting in U.S. elections are exceptionally rare.
While most of the affected voters have likely moved and need to register to vote at their new address, a small percentage of them were incorrectly assumed to have moved but could still be purged from the rolls anyway.
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In November, WILL filed a lawsuit against the Elections Commission, alleging it violated state policies related to potential “movers,” or voters who report an official government transaction from an address different from their voter registration address.
In October, the Elections Commission sent a letter to more than 230,000 voters it identified as potentially having moved. In an attempt to help clean up Wisconsin’s voter rolls, the letter asked those voters to update their voter registrations if they moved or notify elections officials if they still reside at the same address. Since then, some have clarified their situation, leaving about 209,000 still unknown.
Because some of the voters flagged as having moved in a 2017 mailing never actually did, the commission opted to wait for as much as a couple of years to deactivate the registration of voters who didn’t respond to the October mailing.
Elections officials sent the letters based on information obtained through the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which flags potential movers. The commission reviews the information to ensure accuracy.
ERIC obtains data from a variety of sources to flag voters who may have moved, such as Wisconsin motor vehicle records, voter registration and motor vehicle records from participating states, along with the National Change of Address database from the U.S. Postal Service.
Malloy issued a written order requiring the commission to deactivate the registrations of voters who did not ask for a continuation of their registration at their current address within 30 days of receiving the Elections Commission mailing.
Later on Thursday, WILL filed a motion to intervene in a separate federal case filed by the League of Women Voters in December that seeks to delay any voter purge until after April 7, the date of Wisconsin’s presidential primary and state Supreme Court elections.
In addition, WILL also filed motions to dismiss or stay that case because action in state court is still pending. The Republican-controlled Legislature has already sought to intervene in the case.
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