A Wisconsin judge ordered the state to take as many as 234,000 people off its registered-voter list Friday because they may have moved — a decision that could impede residents of this swing state from voting in next year’s presidential election.
The case centers on a letter that the state Elections Commission sent in October to hundreds of thousands of voters, asking them to respond if they were still at that address or to update their registrations if they had moved.
Conservatives filed a lawsuit alleging that to avoid fraud, the commission should have thrown out the registrations of voters who did not respond to the mailing within 30 days, the Associated Press reported. The Elections Commission, composed of three Republicans and three Democrats, is challenging the suit by arguing that it has the legal power to manage the registered voter list and that removing people now would cause confusion if some of them had not actually moved.
President Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. Republicans and Democrats alike are closely watching this court case for its potential impact in 2020, while liberals worry that the voters who would be removed are more likely to be Democrats.
Some of the highest percentages of voters whose registrations were on the line were in Milwaukee, Madison and areas with college campuses, where residents tend to vote Democratic, an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found. More than half of the Elections Commission’s letters went to municipalities where Democrat Hillary Clinton won more votes than Trump in 2016, the newspaper reported.
The commission had planned to throw out voters’ registrations in April 2021 if they had not responded or voted by then, but the Journal Sentinel reported that Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy’s decision meant they probably will be removed before the presidential election. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Elections Commission have said they plan to appeal the ruling, according to the Journal Sentinel.
Although the three voters who sued the Elections Commission with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty in November requested an injunction that would force the commission to delete the voter registrations, the Journal Sentinel reported that Malloy went a step further: He issued a writ of mandamus, which orders a government agency to do its job.
The commission had a clear legal duty to remove voters within 30 days, Malloy said, according to the Journal Sentinel. He said the agency cannot decide that it dislikes the law and change it without following the rulemaking process.
“I don’t want to see someone deactivated, but I don’t write the law,” Malloy reportedly said at the hearing.
Of the 234,000 people who received a letter from the Elections Commission, more than 170,000 had not responded by Dec. 5, the Associated Press reported. An additional 60,000 letters were returned as undeliverable, and about 16,500 recipients had registered at a new address.
Other Republican-led states, including Ohio, Texas and Georgia, have made similar efforts to remove people from the voting rolls. In a 5-to-4 decision in June 2018, the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s method of purging its registered voter list. Meanwhile, a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked that state’s effort, and the litigants in the case eventually reached a settlement.