Chambers of the Wisconsin Supreme Court inside the state Capitol building in Madison.

Daily fines for Democratic members of state elections commission also on hold

A state appeals court has pressed the pause button on the efforts by a conservative activist group and an Ozaukee County judge to have more than 200,000 voters removed from registration rolls. A daily fine imposed by the judge on Democratic members of the state elections commission was also separately stayed by one of the appeals court judges.

The voter roll purge was first sought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty which was described by its founder as an effort to become “like the Golden State Warriors of the conservative movement… filled with high-caliber attorneys.”

Tuesday’s stay by the Court of Appeals only means the purge in on hold until the case can be more fully heard by the panel and perhaps later by the Wisconsin Supreme Court which earlier decided it would not take the case immediately and bypass the appeals judges.

The more than 230,000 voters at the center of the case were sent a letter by the elections commission in October 2019. The letter notified them that data existed in a multi-state database that indicated they may have moved, and they should ensure they  were properly registered to vote in the correct district. 

The commission’s original timeline to identify and remove voters was lengthy.  There were many instances where the data was later found to be in error, meaning the voter had not actually moved or had moved but was still living within the same voting district. .

WILL argued –and Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy agreed— that state law required voters to be removed 30 days after receiving notification. Judge Malloy ruled the statute did not allow the commission any leeway because of potential unreliability of the data. 

Such major upheaval in the voter rolls would likely have an impact on any close statewide election. For example, Donald Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 after receiving only 22,748 more votes than Hillary Clinton out of nearly three million votes cast.

Judge Malloy’s ruling was followed by elections commissions meetings that did not result in a purge. The group was  deadlocked among the three Republicans who wanted to act immediately and the three Democrats who believed action should wait for an appeal of the judge’s interpretation. Malloy then found the three Democratic members in contempt of court and imposed daily fines that are no longer in effect following Tuesday’s order from appeals court Judge Michael Fitzpatrick.