PRESS EDITORIAL: Voters: Don’t let court ruling deter you

Anyone who thinks the voter registration lawsuit in Ozaukee County Circuit Court was motivated by a burning desire to combat election fraud will have no trouble believing that reindeer can fly and a fat man can fit in a chimney half the circumference of his waist.

The point of the suit was to make it hard for some people to vote. Critics of the legal maneuver have called it voter suppression.

Plaintiffs selected and backed by a politically conservative organization called Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty argued that the voter registration of some 200,000 state residents should be invalidated immediately because they had not responded in a timely fashion to a notice to verify their home addresses.

The organization was able to have the case heard in Ozaukee County because one of the plaintiffs, David Opitz, lives in the Town of Belgium.

On Friday, Judge Paul Malloy, citing a requirement of state election law, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the voters’s names removed from voter rolls.

“I don’t want to see anybody deactivated,” Malloy said, “but I don’t write the legislation.”

The defendant, the state Elections Commission, had sent postcards to 234,000 residents who, based on various records, were thought to have changed their addresses. The commission planned to remove them from voter rolls if they didn’t verify their addresses, but would give them more than a year to comply.

The lawsuit argued that state law requires that the voter registration of those who didn’t respond within 30 days of receiving notice be invalidated without further delay.

Keeping voter registration information up to date is a worthy goal, but nothing in the Elections Commission’s plan to hold off on purging voters was in any way a threat to election integrity. The voters in question cannot vote twice. Fraud is not the issue.

The significance of the court decision is that the purging of a large number of voter registration records can determine the outcome of elections, including next year’s presidential election. The most recent presidential and gubernatorial elections in Wisconsin were decided by less than 30,000 votes.

Voters who are affected by the decision, however, should not be intimidated. The fact is, they have not lost their right to vote. They can verify their addresses and reactivate their registrations online or at polling places on election day and then cast their votes.

At worst, that could be a small inconvenience, a few more minutes spent providing information to poll workers. But for anyone who values the right to participate in democracy by voting, that is surely a small price to pay.

The court ruling has generated quite a bit of noise in loud criticism from politicians and voter rights advocates outraged at seeing voter suppression at work. But regardless of the motives of the plaintiffs, there is a message that can be extrapolated from the decision that voters and their advocates should not ignore: While barriers to voting should be avoided whenever possible, voters should not have to be treated as fragile creatures unable to follow basic rules. It’s not too much to ask that they respond to a reminder to update their addresses if they’ve moved. And the fact that they may have to re-register if they haven’t done so is not a good excuse to fail to vote.

The Elections Commission, aware that past efforts to update voter addresses had led to the wrongful removal of names from voter lists, was being properly cautious in allowing voters extra time to correct their registration. The court decision, unfortunately, thwarted that good intention, but voters can render it meaningless by taking the small trouble to re-register to exercise their precious right.

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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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