Last week,the state agency in charge of administrating elections, the Wisconsin Elections Commission, released its list of some 200,000 names and addresses. This is a newly public list of voters that election officials believe may have moved in 2019. The issue at hand is when, or whether, these voters will be purged from the voter roll.
In October of last year, state elections officials sent out letters to about 234,000 Wisconsin addresses, giving them thirty days to re-register. When thirty days passed and the names were not purged, a conservative legal firm known as the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty sued the elections commission for failing to act.
The issue quickly became divisive. Republican members of the Commission voted twice to remove the names. Democratic members argued twice that there was not enough evidence to support a purge and removing names would suppress voting. Both times, the vote ended in a deadlock.
In December 2019, an Ozaukee County judge ruled in favor of purging the votes. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals stayed the order pending the final decision on the appeal. As of yet, no voters on this list have been deactivated.
The list is derived from a multi-state voter registration database called the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, Reid Magney, a spokesperson at the elections commission, outlines the pros and cons of this system:
“The whole purpose of ERIC is to help make elections go smoothly by helping state and local administration people get voters registered early. Because if voters are registered early, the lines at the polling place are gonna be shorter, and things are gonna go faster,” Magney says. “If people have to stop and register to vote, [it] just makes things difficult for all the voters. So, ERIC is very good at helping do that kind of thing. I think the thing that we’ve realized is that the matching that ERIC does, when it comes to who’s moved, is not one hundred percent correct.”
Magney goes on to list a few ways ERIC could be mistaken about a voter’s status. For example, a person could register their vehicle in a different county to avoid certain taxes or restrictions. This might lead to ERIC assuming that person has moved.
The last information available shows that the greatest concentration of voters on this potential purge list come from Milwaukee and Madison. Milwaukee County has about 50,000 voters on the list, while Dane County has nearly 30,000. Of these, almost 8,000 Dane County letters of potential purge have been deemed “undeliverable.” More than 21,000 have been unanswered.
This case has quickly captured national attention, given the upcoming 2020 election, in which Wisconsin is sure to be a battleground state.
If you happen to be one of the people on this list, you are now still eligible to vote.
“You know, we encourage people, if you have any questions about whether or not you’re registered or whatever, just go to the My Vote Wisconsin website. You can put in your name and your date of birth and see a record,” Magney says. “If somebody doesn’t find themselves, please don’t panic and assume that anything has happened. It’s just maybe that the date is off or there’s a misspelling in your name. And contact your municipal clerk’s office and we can get it straightened out.”
The final decision on the WEC’s appeal is still to come. In the meantime, the state of Wisconsin does allow same-day voting registration.