Two conservative justices join liberals in striking down the attempted deregistration of tens of thousands of voters.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday rejected an attempt by a right-wing legal group to purge almost 70,000 voters from the state’s voter rolls in a 5-2 decision.

The suit, brought by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), argued the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) should have stricken the voters from the rolls based on sometimes-erroneous data that said those voters may have moved.

The list of potential movers came from a multi-state database, the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). WEC in 2019 sent 234,000 people letters notifying them that they were on the ERIC “movers list” and told them to update their address. They did not respond, but it was discovered ERIC had wrongly flagged thousands of people as having moved.

The number of voters WILL sought to toss from the rolls gradually dropped to about 69,000 as more voters’ records were updated.

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WILL President Rick Esenberg acknowledged the movers list had errors, but he argued before the court last September that it was WEC’s responsibility to remove these voters anyway, based on his interpretation of state statutes. 

Wisconsin law requires local elections officials to regularly update voter rolls. That includes deregistering voters if the officials receive “reliable information” that they have moved. However, the Supreme Court majority found that law applies only to local elections officials, not to WEC.

The law “does not apply to the Commission; there is no credible argument that it does,” conservative swing Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote in the majority opinion.

Hagedorn and conservative Chief Justice Pat Roggensack joined liberal justices Jill Karofsky, Rebecca Dallet, and Ann Walsh Bradley in shooting down the purge. Conservatives Rebecca Bradley and Annette Ziegler dissented.

In a statement, Esenberg called the ruling a “disappointing setback for those who expect Wisconsin state agencies to follow the law.”

“It is now up to the Legislature to fix the law,” Esenberg said in a thinly veiled request to Republicans who have already introduced several bills that would limit or suppress Wisconsin voters.

WEC said it is still analyzing the result and it “may have comment at a later time.”