Melanie Conklin

AG Kaul Testifies Before Congress on Voting Rights

The Wisconsin Attorney General argued against purges of voters from the rolls.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - May 7th, 2021 09:01 pm
Josh Kaul. File photo by Emily Hamer/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. (<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">CC BY-ND 2.0</a>) 

Josh Kaul. File photo by Emily Hamer/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul was invited to testify before the Committee on House Administration on voting rights on Thursday on the topic of Wisconsin’s experience with voter list purges.

“General Kaul,” as he was identified throughout the hearing, told the elections subcommittee about Wisconsin’s experiences with the Electronic Registration Information Center, Inc. (“ERIC”) movers lists, which were used to update voter registrations in 2017 and 2019. The first time Wisconsin relied on ERIC data, the state purged 340,000 voters. The purge of so-called movers caused problems during the 2018 spring primary election when roughly 9,000 people showed up to vote who had not in fact moved, but had been purged.

“Overall, based on their follow-ups, they reactivated over 12,000 voters to the rolls,” said Kaul.

In 2019, the next time there was a movers report, the Wisconsin Elections Commission was more cautious. In response, in Nov. 2019 the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit arguing that voters who had not responded within 30 days should be deactivated, a request initially granted in circuit court and reversed in a court of appeals. Kaul personally argued that case in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which ruled 5 – 2 against deactivating those voters.

The topic of the hearing was “Voting in America: The Potential for Voter List Purges to Interfere with Free and Fair Access to the Ballot.” Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said this was the second in a series of hearings the committee will be holding in 2021 examining voting in America.

Federal law requires that states make a “reasonable effort to remove registered voters from their rolls who are ineligible to vote in the state,” said Butterfield, “but the law also requires that “any state statute or any process governing the removal of voters from the voting rolls must be uniform, must be nondiscriminatory and in compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.”

In his testimony, Kaul said further analysis showed the purge disproportionately affected minority voters: “In short, the available evidence from Wisconsin shows that thousands of individuals identified by ERIC movers data as having possibly moved have not in fact moved and that minority voters are disproportionately likely to be incorrectly identified as having possibly moved.”

Speaking before Kaul was U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), a member of the sub-committee, who said that “if we want to actually increase voter participation, I believe we should be fighting for better-run elections, so people will hold confidence in the election results.”

Leading up to Kaul’s testimony, Steil slammed him, saying, “In my home state of Wisconsin there was a lawsuit recently on this issue of list maintenance. Wisconsin wasn’t keeping its voter lists up to date and over 70,000 individuals are registered even though by all indications they have moved.”

Steil told the committee that Kaul “filed a brief and presented oral arguments in court in support of keeping these individuals on Wisconsin voter rolls even though they no longer live where they are registered.”

Chairman Butterfield added that states removed more than 30 million voters from their rolls in a span of four years from 2014-2018. “Far too often these new, aggressive voter role purge efforts have wrongfully removed voters who were properly registered to vote,” said Butterfield. “Indeed studies indicate that hundreds of thousands of properly registered voters have been the subject of flawed voter purge efforts.” Voters and organizations have spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars to correct these problems. “We must do better,” he concluded.

He said a number of purges may not have complied with federal law — particularly when it comes to minority voters. “High voter registration should be a subject of community pride, not an invitation to litigate.”

Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner.

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