GOP votes to hire attorney in voter purge lawsuit

MADISON — Republican legislators have decided to hire their own attorneys in a federal lawsuit seeking to keep more than 200,000 voter registrations in place.

The move again underscores the rift between the GOP and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul. Republicans don't trust him to defend their position in the lawsuit.

The move is linked to the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty's attempt to deactivate more than 200,000 voter registrations because the voters may have moved. The institute filed a state lawsuit in November demanding state election officials invalidate the registrations.

A judge ruled in WILL's favor earlier this month, ordering the Wisconsin Elections Commission to immediately deactivate the registrations. The state Department of Justice, led by Kaul, has appealed. The group has asked the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court to take the case directly. The court has yet to decide whether to accept it.

Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters filed a federal lawsuit last week seeking to stop the purge. Kaul's DOJ is representing the state in that action.

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Legislative Organization, comprised of both parties' top leaders, voted Monday to hire outside counsel to represent lawmakers in the federal dispute. All six Republicans on the committee approved the move; all four Democrats voted against it. The committee didn't name the attorneys but gave Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate President Roger Roth the power to negotiate terms and compensation.

Most of the 200,000-plus registrants that could be purged from the rolls come from Democratic areas of the state. Democrats fear forcing them to re-register would create a burden and drive turnout down as they work to defeat President Donald Trump in November.