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Elections commission deadlocks on voter purge issue for second time this month
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Elections commission deadlocks on voter purge issue for second time this month

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The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Monday deadlocked on a plan to address a purge of Wisconsin’s voter rolls as the issue awaits a potential decision by the courts.

Democrats and Republicans on the six-member commission were unable to come to a consensus on how, if at all, to proceed with a purge of as many as 209,000 voters who may have moved. The commission is composed of three Democrats and three Republicans.

With a 3-3 party line vote, a Republican motion that would have ordered the commission to remove some voters from the rolls failed to advance. Voters removed from the rolls would need to register at their new address if they moved or at their same address if they didn’t. Wisconsin offers same-day registration, so voters can register at the polls the day of an election with proper ID and proof of address.

Monday’s inaction by the commission is the second time this month commissioners deadlocked on a path forward on the state’s voter roll issue, which has garnered national attention.

The commission’s meeting comes after Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy earlier this month ordered the state to purge voters flagged as having moved. Earlier in December, commissioners deadlocked 3-3 along party lines, failing to advance a motion that would have removed voters from the rolls within seven business days of Malloy’s order.

With no decisive action taken by the commission, it will likely be up to a future court order to proceed with the potential purge.

The dispute over Wisconsin’s voter rolls stems from a lawsuit filed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty in November.

WILL president Rick Esenberg chided the result of Monday’s vote by the commission.

“It is astonishing that, once again, the Wisconsin Elections Commission could not agree to follow a straightforward court order,” Esenberg said in a statement. “Court orders are not suggestions. They are not suspended because the losing party has appealed. They are to be followed.”

The suit alleged the commission violated state policies related to potential “movers,” or voters who report an official government transaction from an address different from their voter registration address.

The case is before a state Appeals Court, but the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court is likely to take it up.

In October, the Elections Commission sent a letter to over 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.

Monday’s unsuccessful motion would have deactivated voters who may have moved outside their municipality and didn’t respond to October’s mailing; or voters whose mailing was returned as not deliverable.

Democrats on the commission want to wait for further direction from the courts before deactivating any voters. They argue the data flagging potential movers is unreliable, and that deactivating potential movers equates to stripping the right to vote from those people.

“This is a radical step and I think one we should avoid,” said commissioner Mark Thomsen, a Democrat.

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.

“We’re not taking anybody’s vote away,” said commissioner Robert Spindell. “Everyone has the opportunity to re-register on election day.”

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