Wisconsin Public Radio

State Supreme Court Tosses Voter Purge Suit

Conservative group wanted voters that may have moved purged from the voter roll.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Apr 9th, 2021 12:42 pm
Wisconsin Supreme Court. Photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin Supreme Court. Photo by Dave Reid.

A drawn-out legal fight over Wisconsin’s voter list ended Friday when the state Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by a conservative group seeking to purge thousands of names from Wisconsin’s voter list.

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed the lawsuit in 2019. It argued that it was the Wisconsin Elections Commission‘s legal duty to remove the names from a list of voters flagged as having potentially moved by a multi-state database of government records.

But in a majority opinion authored by conservative swing Justice Brian Hagedorn, the court ruled 5-2 Friday that it was not the state’s jobs to remove the names. Hagedorn said the law in question did not apply to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

“There is no credible argument that it does,” Hagedorn wrote.

The ruling means about 69,000 names that were flagged will remain on the state’s voter list for now.

Hagedorn’s majority opinion was joined by conservative Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, as well as Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky, the court’s three liberals. Conservative Justices Rebecca Bradley and Annette Ziegler dissented.

The dispute over the state’s voter list began in June 2019, when the Wisconsin Elections Commission decided how it would handle thousands of voters who were flagged as having potentially moved.

The names in question were identified by a multi-state database of government records known as the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). The database pulls addresses from a variety of sources, such as state departments of motor vehicles and a National Change of Address list maintained by the U.S. Postal Service.

After the list flagged 232,579 voters as having potentially moved, the state sent out mailers to the addresses where they were registered. The Elections Commission’s initial plan was to give those voters a chance to update their addresses. Those who did not respond would be asked when they voted whether they still lived at their address or if they had moved.

But WILL sued in November 2019, arguing that state law required the Elections Commission to purge its voter list 30 days after the mailing was sent.

WILL filed its case in Ozaukee County and won the first round in dramatic fashion when circuit court Judge Paul Malloy ruled from the bench that the names must be purged from the voter list immediately.

After the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission split 3-3 on how to address the ruling, Malloy took the rare step of finding the panel’s three Democratic members in contempt of court. Malloy’s order would have fined Democrats Ann Jacobs, Mark Thomsen and Julie Glancey $250 each per day until the names were removed from Wisconsin’s voter list. He also ordered a $50 daily fine for the Elections Commission itself.

A Wisconsin Appeals Court blocked Malloy’s ruling and his contempt order, eventually ruling against WILL and in favor of the Elections Commission.

WILL asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to hear the voter purge lawsuit in an expedited appeal, but the court denied the request in a January 2020 ruling where Hagedorn joined the court’s liberals. The state Supreme Court rejected another attempt by WILL to expedite the case in July 2020, with Hagedorn again joining the court’s liberal block.

That meant the case had to play out through the usual judicial process, which — in this case — proceeded much slower. Justices heard arguments in September, but the case was put on the back-burner during the 2020 presidential election season, where other conservative groups and former President Donald Trump’s campaign filed far-reaching lawsuits that would have overturned the results of the election itself.

According to Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney, about 69,000 names remain on the list from the original 232,579.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Rejects Voter Purge Lawsuit was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

More about the 2020 Voter Purge

Read more about 2020 Voter Purge here

2 thoughts on “State Supreme Court Tosses Voter Purge Suit”

  1. Mingus says:

    Maybe Justice Roggensack is leaning more towards the middle in her decisions since she up for election in 2023. It is refreshing to see that the Right Wing WILL is not winning every obscure case they file as a means to undermine our legitimate State government.

  2. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Roggen-hack doesn’t want to get recalled. And she’s about 1 more BS partisan decision from doing so.

    And we need to be letting her and other GOP judges know that if they allow voter suppression or GOP gerrymandering, we won’t wait till 2023 to get these crooks off the bench.

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