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Legislature seeks to intervene in federal voter purge case

Legislature seeks to intervene in federal voter purge case

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Wisconsin's Republican-controlled Legislature is seeking to intervene in a federal lawsuit filed against the Wisconsin Elections Commission to delay its "imminent deactivation" of up to 234,000 registered voters who may have moved. 

The possible intervention is the latest legal maneuver in one of two major legal challenges to the how the state Elections Commission cleans up the state's voter rolls. Lawmakers, who are expected to give their approval to seek intervention, have until Monday morning to do so.

After the passage of their extraordinary session laws last year, Republicans who control the Legislature have increasingly sought to involve themselves in the defense of state law because they believe Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul won't defend the law in their interest. 

The Legislature is seeking to intervene in a federal case the liberal League of Women Voters filed earlier this week that seeks to delay until after April 7 a voter purge of registered voters the state believes may have moved. 

The League of Women Voters case comes after Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy last Friday ordered the Elections Commission to deactivate such registered voters. The case now sits before the District IV Court of Appeals in Madison.

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit against the commission last month alleging it violated state policies related to "movers," 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 about 234,000 voters it identified as potentially having moved in an attempt to clean up the voter rolls.

It asked those voters to update their voter registrations if they moved or notify elections officials if they still reside at the same address. 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.

Democrats are opposed to an immediate voter purge because past mailings have misidentified "movers" by a rate of 7%. Republicans say the purge is important because it will help ensure clean voter rolls. They say that even if a voter is mistakenly identified as a mover and taken off the rolls, it would not impede his or her right to vote because Wisconsin offers same-day voter registration, which requires ID and proof of residence. 

Elections officials send the letters based on information obtained through the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center, or 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.

WILL argues the law makes clear that the registrations of voters who didn’t respond to the commission’s mailing within a month should be purged from the rolls. But the commission, through the DOJ, argues the law doesn’t apply to the commission, but rather municipal clerks and the Milwaukee Election Commission.


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