Wisconsin Legislature seeks to kill lawsuit on voter purge

MADISON — The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature on Monday asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the purging of up to 209,000 registered voters in the battleground state.

The Legislature's attorneys asked the court to at least put the lawsuit on hold while a separate case seeking to remove the voters works its way through the state courts. There are two lawsuits pending related to potentially removing the names from voter rolls.

The cases are being closely watched in battleground Wisconsin, a state President Donald Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. Democrats are fighting to stop the purge, saying it will unfairly impact their voters. Republicans say they merely want to ensure that people who have moved can't vote from their old address.

The first lawsuit was filed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty law firm, which argued that the bipartisan state elections commission broke the law when it did not deactivate any voter flagged as potentially having moved who did not respond within 30 days to an October 2019 mailing.

The commission wanted to wait until after the November presidential election before it removed anyone because of inaccuracies in a previous round of data identifying voters who had potentially moved. A judge last month sided with conservatives and ordered that the voters be purged.

After that ruling, the state appealed and asked that the decision be put on hold to avoid confusion; voters could be removed and then put back on the rolls if a higher court reverses the decision. The state appeals court has not acted on that request. Meanwhile, conservatives who brought the case have asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take it and bypass the appeals court. It has not yet decided whether to take the case.

The Legislature's motion comes in a separate federal lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. That lawsuit argues that it would be a violation of constitutional due process rights to deactivate the registrations of the voters without proper notice. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, like the Legislature, is also seeking to intervene in that lawsuit and have it dismissed.

The Legislature argued Monday that the League of Women Voters could make its arguments in state court and wrongly “rushed” to federal court in an attempt to “interfere” with the other proceedings. Asking the federal court to get involved would put it in conflict with state courts and be “deeply disrespectful,” the Legislature argued.

Doug Poland, an attorney for the League of Women Voters, had no immediate comment.

The affected voters come from more heavily Democratic areas of Wisconsin, including Milwaukee and cities with college campuses. Democrats fear forcing voters whose registration was nullified to re-register would create a burden on them and hurt turnout. Republicans argue that removing the voters would ensure that the rolls are not full of people who shouldn’t be voting.

A Jan. 13 hearing in Ozaukee County Court is scheduled on a motion seeking to find the elections commission in contempt and fine it $12,000 a day for not taking action.

The elections commission in October mailed about 232,500 voters to tell them records indicated they had moved and that they needed to verify the address where they were registered to vote was current. Of those, about 209,000 have not requested continuation at their current address or re-registered at another.