Wisconsin Legislature wants to spend taxpayer dollars to intervene in federal voter lawsuit

MADISON — Republican Wisconsin lawmakers took steps Friday to spend taxpayer dollars to hire their own attorney and intervene in a federal lawsuit seeking to stop the purge of more than 200,000 voter registrations.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this week by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin against the state Elections Commission. It comes after a state judge ruled against the commission and said it must immediately deactivate more than 200,000 voter registrations of people identified as possibly having moved. That decision, in a case brought by a conservative law firm, is being appealed but the ruling has not been put on hold.

The legal battles are being closely watched as the affected voters come from more heavily Democratic parts of the state. Democrats fear forcing them to re-register creates a burden and could negatively affect 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.

President Donald Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. The state is one of a handful of battlegrounds in the upcoming election.

Republican leaders of the state Senate and Assembly on Friday circulated a ballot to approve the hiring of a private attorney to represent them in the federal lawsuit, rather than Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul. Republicans have increasingly turned to hiring their own attorneys, paid for by taxpayers, rather than have Kaul represent them in lawsuits. Republicans don't trust that Kaul will represent their interests because he is a Democrat.

Kaul's spokeswoman, Gillian Drummond, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the move.

The League argues in its lawsuit that it would be a violation of constitutional due process rights to deactivate the registrations of the voters without proper notice. The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty argues in the other case that state law required the elections commission to deactivate the voters flagged as potentially having moved who didn't respond to an October mailing, but they failed to do so.