Wisconsin election officials consider purged voter options

MADISON — Wisconsin election officials are scheduled to meet Monday to consider what to do about more than 200,000 voters that a judge has ruled should be purged from voter rolls in the key swing state.

The judge's ruling this month in favor of a conservative law firm said the Wisconsin Elections Commission must immediately deactivate the voter registrations of people who were sent a 2019 movers mailing and either did not respond or whose letter was returned as undeliverable. The affected voters are registered in heavily Democratic areas of Wisconsin, a battleground state in the 2020 election that President Donald Trump narrowly won in 2016.

The commission could follow that ruling to the letter and immediately deactivate those voters. Or it could deactivate the voters, but also send them a mailing alerting them that their registration status has changed and telling them how to register at their current address. The commission could decide to mail the 209,000 voters who have not requested continuation or re-registered, telling them their registration will be deactivated if they don't request continuation within a set time.

The commission could also decide only to act for voters in the 7th Congressional District, rather than for voters statewide. Voters in the sprawling northwestern district must send absentee ballots for the Feb. 18 Republican primary to replace Rep. Sean Duffy by a Jan. 2 deadline.

It could choose to review the timeline, costs and format of mailing voters. And it could choose not to do anything at all, and just await direction from the courts. If a state appeals court puts the judge's order on hold, as the Wisconsin Department of Justice has asked, no commission action would be required.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, the group that brought the lawsuit, is trying to bypass the appeals court and have the state Supreme Court, controlled by conservatives, immediately take the case.

Democrats fear forcing voters whose registration was nullified to re-register creates a burden and could hurt turnout in the 2020 presidential election. Republicans argue that removing the voters ensures the rolls are not full of people who shouldn’t be voting.

The League of Women Voters of Woman also has filed a federal lawsuit to stop the purge. That lawsuit argues that it would be a violation of constitutional due process rights to deactivate the registrations of the voters without proper notice.