IN MY OPINION: Voter purge decision was unprecedented, contrary to state law

By 
ERIN GRUNZE

 

At a hearing on Dec. 13, a court in Ozaukee County took the extraordinary and unprecedented step of ordering the Wisconsin Elections Commission to purge 234,000 voters from the rolls immediately. The court also denied the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin’s request to join an existing lawsuit as an intervening defendant.

Our intention to join the case was to ensure that voters are not removed from the list because of inaccurate and unreliable data, and that unfortunately is what was ordered. We know Wisconsin can do better by its voters and that all eligible voters should not have to worry about being erroneously removed and having to re-register when they go to vote.

This case was filed on behalf of three voters from Washington, Ozaukee and Waukesha Counties, and sought to require the Elections Commission to deactivate the registrations of 234,000 voters statewide if they did not respond within a mere 30 days to notices sent by the commission in October confirming they currently live at the address where they are registered to vote.

Jon Sherman, senior counsel at Fair Elections Center, shares our concerns and issued the following statement:

“In rejecting the League’s intervention, the court did not hear arguments that would have avoided further legal violations. As a result, the court’s order does not require the state to issue new notices to voters, even though the October notices failed to warn of deactivation. The order does not even comply with the very Wisconsin law at issue, in that it requires the immediate removal of voters who merely moved within a municipality.”

The state statute at issue provides that: “Upon receipt of reliable information that a registered elector has changed his or her residence within the municipality, the municipal clerk or board of election commissioners shall change the elector’s registration and mail the elector a notice of the change.”

Wisconsin state law requires voter purges to be based on “reliable information” that voters have moved. However, due to many factors with how the state gathers voter information, particularly from Wisconsin DMV records, some voter roll maintenance is based on flawed, unreliable information, meaning many voters could find their registration revoked even if they have not moved to a new municipality or out of state, or already updated their registration to their new address. 

When Wisconsin used this badly-flawed data to purge voter rolls in the 2017-2018 election cycle, three cities, including Milwaukee, reversed the purge entirely because so many errors were present in the data. New letters were sent to 234,039 registered voters in October 2019, which accounts for 7% of Wisconsin’s 3.3 million registered voters.
The author is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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