Breaking: Supreme Court will likely be asked to consider cutting 200,000 voters

A state appeals court on Friday struck down an effort by a conservative legal advocacy group to remove some 200,000 voters from the rolls in Wisconsin, setting the stage for a likely appeal to the state Supreme Court.

No dissent was noted in the 46-page ruling signed by Judges Michael Fitzpatrick, Joanne Kloppenburg, and Jennifer Nashhold. The court last month put a temporary stay on the purge until it could give it the full consideration released today.

Today’s decision by the District 4 Court of Appeals took issue with the original ruling in December by Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy that the Wisconsin Elections Commission was required by statute to immediately remove voters who had received notice from the commission that their voter registration status may be changed to ineligible because they had moved away.

The Appeals Court said the law was clear that the statutes at the heart of the case apply to municipal clerks and local boards, not the state Elections Commission. The state commission, according to statutes, “may delegate to a municipal clerk or board of election commissioners” the responsibility to change the registration of electors. The judges point out that many references to a “commission” in statutes do not apply to the state Elections Commission, but that a municipal clerk’s elections duties may be assigned to a local board of election commissioners. And even when a voter’s status is determined to be ineligible because of a relocation outside of that community, “the statute does not specify a date when the clerk or board must so act.”

The more than 230,000 voters at the center of the case were sent a letter by the elections commission last October. 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. 

There were many instances in which 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. For that reason, the state elections commission’s original timeline to identify and remove voters was lengthy to ensure accuracy. 

But the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty argued –and Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy ruled— that state law required voters to be removed by the state Elections Commission 30 days after receiving notification, with no leeway due to any problems with reliability of the data.

The state elections commission did not implement Malloy’s decision because it was deadlocked between the three Democratic members and the three Republican members. Malloy then assessed a daily fine on the commission and a higher daily fine on only the Democratic members, ruling them in contempt of court. That decision also was put on hold by the Court of Appeals last month and has now been dismissed.

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.

The complaint by WILL is based on data collected voluntarily through a multi-state database kept by the non-profit Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). The data in ERIC is often based on postal records and state departments for vehicle registration. The appeals court ruling cites multiple examples where the ERIC data has been unreliable, meaning the Elections Commission was acting within its scope to only base voter purges on information it considers reliable.

The judges go on to say WILL’s push to deactivate the voter registration status of an entire group goes against state law that says the reliability of data used to determine status must be examined voter by voter.