Ozaukee County judge finds Wisconsin Elections Commission, its Democratic members in contempt

Malloy levels fines for not complying with order to purge names from voter registration rolls
Ozaukee Press staff

An Ozaukee County judge on Monday found the state Elections Commission and its three Democratic Party members in contempt a court order last month that the commission notify more than 200,000 registered voters that they had 30 days to update their addresses or be removed from voter rolls as state law requires.

Circuit Court Judge Paul Malloy ordered that the three commission members each be fined $250 per day and the commission as a whole be fined $50 per day until they comply with his order.

“I can’t be any clearer than this,” he said. “They need to follow my order.”

The conservative Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty, which filed suit in October against the Election Commission, had asked that each commission member be fined $2,000 per day.

On Monday, WILL President Rick Esenberg told Malloy he “had never seen a public body defy a court order” as the Commission had done and that a contempt order was being requested “because frankly we don’t know what else to do.”

In a flurry of activity following Malloy’s written order on Dec. 17, a motion to delay its implementation was denied by Malloy. The District 4 Court of Appeals in Madison also refused to stay Malloy’s order and WILL filed a petition with the state Supreme Court seeking to bypass any appeals court ruling.

The Supreme Court has so far not agreed to take the case. 

On Monday, Assistant Attorney General Karla Keckhaver, representing the Elections Commission, said Malloy should wait for the high court to say what it will do.

“How long am I supposed to wait?” Malloy said. With a primary election just weeks away, he said, “You’d agree that time is somewhat of the essence.”

“Absolutely,” Keckhaver said. “But the fact that the stay has taken longer than expected is not the fault of the commission. “Given that this is a novel case of statewide importance,” the Supreme Court should be give the chance to rule, she said.

On Dec. 30, the six-member Wisconsin Elections Commission — three Republicans and three Democrats — deadlocked 3-3 along party lines over whether to comply with Malloy’s order. 

That prompted WILL to file the motion finding the commission in contempt of court.

The three Democratic members are Julie M. Glancey of Sheboygan Falls, Ann S. Jacobs of Milwaukee and Mark L. Thomsen of Milwaukee.

In his remarks Monday, Malloy said he was particularly troubled by comments Thomsen made, saying that Malloy’s December ruling was not final until it had passed through the appeals process and that it represented “one man’s opinion.”

Malloy called those comments “disrespectful” and “condescending.”

“It is one person’s opinion, but the person is a judge,” Malloy said.

The fact that the commission deadlocked “indicates to me that at least three commission members understood this court’s order,” Malloy said.

The Elections Commission originally sent nearly 240,000 letters to voters saying it appeared they had moved and their addresses appeared to be out of date. The notice failed to state, however, that under state law they had just 30 days to respond or be removed from voter lists.

Those removed can re-register online, by visiting their local municipal clerk or at the polls on election day.

Since Malloy’s ruling, the number of people at risk of being removed has shrunk to less than 150,000 because many of them still live in the municipality where they previously lived.

The case has garnered widespread attention as Wisconsin again promises to be a key battleground state in the coming 2020 presidential election. President Donald Trump won Wisconsin over Democrat Hillary Clinton by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. 

About two dozen protestors rallied before the hearing and sat quietly in the courtroom during the proceedings. Many of them wore T-shirts emblazoned with the phrases “Unions for All” and “Fight for $15 and a Union.”

The Elections Commission is scheduled to meet Tuesday morning, Jan. 14.

After Monday’s hearing, commission member Robert Spindell, a Republican, said he hopes the Commission will “make it as easy as possible” for voters to register.

“We will do whatever we need to do,” he said, adding that he hopes that at least one of the Democrat members would join the three Republicans.

Spindell said the commission will pay any fines levied against its members. Spindell was not on the commission when WILL filed its lawsuit in October.



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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.

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