State elections commission held in contempt of court in voter purge case

PORT WASHINGTON — An Ozaukee county judge ruled on Monday, Jan. 13 that the Wisconsin Elections Commission is in contempt of court for not following his order to immediately deactivate the registration of thousands of voters. It is the latest ruling in the voter purge case that grows more complicated by the day.

Monday's ruling means the Wisconsin Elections Commission must purge the voter rolls now. They cannot wait for an appeals court to hear the case. If the commission does not act, it will be fined.

Back in December, Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy sided with a conservative group that filed a lawsuit -- and ordered the Wisconsin Elections Commission to remove more than 200,000 registered voters from state rolls. Those voters had been flagged as having possibly moved.

The commission wanted to wait until after the 2020 presidential election because of inaccuracies with the program that flags voters. But the judge ruled the state law requires the commission to remove them immediately -- and ordered the commission to do so.

The commission has deadlocked twice -- with three commissioners arguing the case should be heard on appeal before it takes any action. That led to Monday's motion to hold those commissioners in contempt.

Judge Malloy ruled it does not matter if a case is being appealed. The commission cannot disregard his or any judge's order.

"What happens to our justice system if people say, 'Well, that's just one guy's interpretation.' Sure, it's just one guy's interpretation, but he's a judge. That's what he's paid to do," Judge Malloy said.

What happens next? The Wisconsin Elections Commission will meet Tuesday in Madison to decide what to do. If the three commissioners vote against a purge, they will be fined $250 a day.

In the meantime, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has not said if or when it will take this case.

Wisconsin will be a battleground state

This case is being closely watched because Wisconsin will be a battleground in the upcoming presidential election. Many of the affected voters come from Democratic areas of the state.

Protesters who gathered at the Ozaukee County Courthouse on Monday compare Judge Malloy's ruling to voter suppression. They vow to file their own lawsuit to stop the purge.

"I don't think anyone of us saw this coming. I'm devastated right now because something so wrong is legal," said Greg Lewis of Souls to the Polls.

If the affected voters are removed from the state rolls, they can re-register again. Wisconsin law also allow voters to register on election day -- with the required documentation.