Wisconsin Supreme Court Agrees to Consider Slashing 129K from Voting Rolls

June 2, 2020 by Dan McCue

The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case that could remove about 129,000 people from the state’s voter rolls ahead of the November election. 

This is the second time the state’s highest court considered hearing the case, having previously deadlocked on whether to take it or not.

The case stems from a letter the Wisconsin Elections Commission sent to about 230,000 voters in October 2019, indicating officials believed those people may have moved from their current address.

Since then, about 62,000 of those voters have either verified their address did not change or registered to vote at a new address.

Another 41,600 have been deemed ineligible to vote for a variety of reasons and struck from the battleground state’s voter rolls.

But that left about 129,000 voters who have not updated their voting records and the question is whether to remove them from the active voter rolls.

State Circuit Judge Paul Malloy, presiding in Ozaukee County, Wis., ordered the state to remove the missing voters from the roll, giving them just 30 days to do so.

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

The state Court of Appeals put that ruling on hold in January and eventually overturned the decision when it ruled in February that the voters should not be removed.

That led to a state Supreme Court hearing on whether to take up the case, but there was a hitch. The court has seven justices, and one of them, a conservative named Dan Kelly, recused himself on the grounds that he was on the ballot in the April election.

The remaining justices split 3-3, and there the case stood until April, when Kelly said he would participate in the case once again because his election was over.

It’s not clear whether the Wisconsin Supreme Court will rule before the August 11 primary or the November 3 general election.

The court’s order set a period of up to 60 days for briefs to be filed in the case and it’s possible oral arguments could be scheduled later this summer or early in the fall.

But that sets up another wrinkle in the case.

Kelly lost his election and is to be replaced by Jill Karofski, a liberal judge.

When Karofsky takes the bench, conservatives will have a 4-3 majority, rather than the 5-2 majority they currently hold.

If the court were to rule that those voters should be removed from active rolls, they could re-register either by mail, online, at a clerk’s office or at the polls on Election Day.

But some voting rights activists have expressed concerns about difficulty for some people to register to vote amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are pleased the Wisconsin Supreme Court has agreed to hear this critical case,” said Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which filed the lawsuit last year. “Recent months have made clear that state agencies, like the Wisconsin Elections Commission, must be held accountable when they ignore state law.”

The Wisconsin Democratic Party, meanwhile, has vowed to fight for the unaccounted for voters.

In a statement the party said, “We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to fight back against these attacks on our democracy and ensure every Wisconsinite is able to vote safely in November.”

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