Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Stakes High in Voter Purge Battle

Would remove 17% of Milwaukee County voters, but less than 1% of Waukesha County voters.

By - Jan 27th, 2020 11:41 am
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Vote here ward(s) 246, 297, 298. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Vote here ward(s) 246, 297, 298. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Go deeper into the fight over more than 200,000 “movers” – voters who gave new addresses to the Division of Motor Vehicles or the Post Office and voters a conservative law firm want removed from the list of registered voters statewide – and you learn why the political stakes are so high.

Examples:

*If all Milwaukee County “movers” were scrubbed from that county’s voter rolls, they would equal 17 percent of all votes cast in that county for President in 2016. Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) figures show that notices were mailed to 50,660 old Milwaukee County voters’ addresses last fall, and only 357 asked to remain on the rolls. There was either no response to the other notices, or they were undeliverable.

In the 2016 presidential election, one in five votes statewide for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton came from Milwaukee County. Clinton won Milwaukee County by 162,753 votes, but President Donald Trump carried Wisconsin by a margin of 22,748 votes.

*If all Waukesha County “movers” were deleted from that county’s voter rolls, they would equal 0.7 percent of all votes cast in that county for President in 2016. The 1,165 notices mailed to the old addresses of Waukesha County voters last fall got 25 requests to remain on the rolls. Trump won Waukesha County by 63,319 votes in 2016.

*If all Dane County “movers” were removed from that county’s voter rolls, they would equal 10 percent of all votes cast in that county for President in 2016. WEC mailed 29,808 notices to old addresses of Dane County voters last fall and 249 asked to be kept on the rolls.

Clinton won Dane County by 146,422 votes in 2016.

  • If all Brown County “movers” were removed from that county’s voter rolls, they would equal 8.5 percent of all votes cast in that county for President in 2016. WEC figures show notices were mailed to 10,322 old Dodge County voters’ addresses last fall and only 100 asked to remain on the rolls. Trump won Brown County by 13,828 votes in 2016.
  • If all Jefferson County “movers” were removed from that county’s voter rolls, they would equal 7.7 percent of all votes cast in that county for President in 2016. WEC figures show notices were mailed to 3,108 old Jefferson County voters’ addresses last fall and only 35 of them asked to remain on the rolls.

 These numbers show why the controversy over whether to remove the names of more than 200,000 “movers” statewide is pending in four courts – all three levels of state courts and in federal court.

Consider the wide gap between the numbers of “movers” in just two counties: 17 percent of all 2016 presidential voters in Milwaukee County – a Democratic stronghold – could be deleted. But only 0.7 percent of all presidential voters in Waukesha County – a Republican stronghold – could be removed from voter rolls.

 Who wins Wisconsin — Trump or the Democratic candidate to be nominated at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee on July 13-16 — if many of those 200,000 votes are not cast this November?

Because voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania provided the winning margins that elected Trump, the fight is being watched closely nationally.  

In November, the conservative law firm, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), sued the WEC, alleging that state law required it to remove the names of voters identified by a 30-state coalition as having moved. 

WEC mailed out 232,579 notices to the old addresses. There were 167,452 no responses; 62,418 were undeliverable; 21,802 voters had their names removed for other reasons, and 2,709 asked to remain on the rolls.

Made up of three Democratic and three Republican appointees, the WEC has repeatedly deadlocked on whether to remove the names of “movers.”

In December a Washington County judge ordered the WEC to remove those names and, weeks later, found the three Democrats on the WEC in contempt of his first order and fined them $250 per day – a ruling stayed by the Court of Appeals.

On Jan. 13, the state Supreme Court deadlocked on a 3-3 vote, with Justice Daniel Kelly not participating because he is running for a full term in the April election, on whether to take the case directly. Last week, WILL again asked the Supreme Court to intervene. 

“The Court of Appeals is required to provide some explanation when issuing a stay,” said WILL President Rick Esenberg. “We’re asking the Supreme Court to consider whether a stay is warranted at all.”

Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn, a former Court of Appeals judge, could break the deadlock over whether – and when – the court intervenes.

Also pending, however, is a federal court lawsuit over those “movers.”

These decisions could help decide the 2020 election.

Steven Walters is a senior producer with the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com

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