Conservative legal group asks Wisconsin Supreme Court to take up voter purge case

Conservative legal group asks Wisconsin Supreme Court to take up voter purge case

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The conservative legal group pressing a lawsuit that seeks a controversial purge of some 234,000 voter registrations asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday to bypass the state’s appeals court and take up the case.

The request from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty for the state Supreme Court to expedite final review of the case comes just days after the District IV Court of Appeals in Madison opted to keep in place an Ozaukee County judge’s ruling. The ruling ordered the removal of up to 234,000 registered voters, who may have moved, in an attempt to clean up the state’s voter rolls.

The appeals court had wanted to hear from WILL before responding to the state Department of Justice’s request for a stay in the case. The appeals court is now prevented from acting on that request until the Supreme Court decides whether to take the case, according to the court filing.

Now, the case may go straight to the Supreme Court, which conservatives control 5-2.

And in another legal development Friday, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature is seeking to intervene in a separate federal lawsuit filed by the liberal League of Women Voters earlier this week against the Wisconsin Elections Commission to delay the “imminent deactivation” of voters sparked by the WILL case.

WILL case

In its Friday petition to the state’s high court, WILL argued the Supreme Court should accelerate the case to prevent the state’s Elections Commission from continuing its delay of the voter purge.

“(The Elections Commission) should not be permitted to continue to ignore the law by tying this suit up in the courts for the next one to two years,” WILL president Rick Esenberg wrote. “This Court should take jurisdiction of this case and order WEC to do its job and leave the legislating to the legislature.”

WILL 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 than their voter registration address.

In October, the Elections Commission sent a letter to about 234,000 voters it identified as potentially having moved. 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 as long 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%.

According to the latest data provided by the Elections Commission, about 1% of the possible movers who received the mailings have requested to continue their registration at their current address, meaning the state was incorrect in presuming they moved.

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.

Voters flagged

Elections officials sent 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 to municipal clerks and the Milwaukee Election Commission.

On Friday, an arm of the Service Employees International Union sought to join the lawsuit.

GOP move seen

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 latest manifestation of that posture is in the League of Women Voters case challenging the Elections Commission’s voter purge. The case seeks to delay until after April 7 the voter purge of registered voters who may have moved.

The Republican leaders of the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization asked members Friday to approve intervention in the case. They have until Monday to vote on the matter, but with Republicans in the majority the move is expected to win support.

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