Wisconsin law requires that “upon receipt of reliable information that a registered voter has moved,” the Wisconsin Elections Commission must notify the voter by mail.
If the Commission does not receive any response from the voter within 30 days, it is required to remove that voter from its rolls, even if the voter hasn’t actually moved.
On Friday, Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy ordered the Commission to clear 234,000 voters from its current rolls after sending out letters in October.
“I don’t want to see anybody deactivated, but I don’t write the legislation. That’s not my domain,” Malloy said in his oral decision. “Once the legislature has studied this issue and they’ve decided how to proceed, that’s really their prerogative and then people can disagree with it or agree with it through voting, but I think it’s very clear that [the Wisconsin Elections Commission] had a legal duty, [but] they didn’t think the policy was appropriate and they went away from it.”
Judge Malloy’s decision came a month after the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty sued the Commission for saying it would wait one to two years to remove such voters from its rolls.
Mike Browne, Deputy Director at One Wisconsin Institute says this legal action will ultimately suppress potential voters.
“We believe the timing of this current legal action is suspicious because it’s happening in the lead up to the spring elections, and potentially there are hundreds of thousands of people who could be flagged for removal from the voter registration rolls and forced to re-register, even in cases when they haven’t moved, on election day, which creates delays, chaos, [and] frustration, potentially discouraging people from exercising their franchise, and we believe that is absolutely the wrong way to go,” Browne says.
Lucas Vebber is a deputy counsel at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. He says that despite concerns about voter suppression by deactivation, the issue at hand is a narrower one.
“This issue is entirely, 100 percent about a state agency that is failing to follow the law as written,” Vebber asserts. “With regards to anybody who finds themselves deactivated as a result of this, of course in Wisconsin we make it very easy to register again. Those individuals are able to do so at any point between now and election day, and then they can even show up on election day and register there. This case, as I said, is 100 percent entirely about a rogue state agency that is not following the law.”
Given that narrow focus, Judge Malloy also denied the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin’s entrance into the case, saying that their intervention would make the case “fruitlessly complex.”
If it had been granted intervention, the League would have moved to dismiss the case.
Erin Grunze is the Executive Director for the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. She says the League sought to intervene because the Wisconsin Elections Commission hadn’t argued that the moving information it receives from the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, isn’t reliable.
“From our perspective it’s very disappointing because we know that that data is inaccurate,” Grunze says. “We know that it produces false positives in that it identifies people who the DMV thinks have moved when in fact they have not, and they’re voters who go to the polls regularly. We know that based on when [the] process was done in 2017 in advance of the spring election in 2018 and we had voters come forward who attempted to vote in their locations and were told they were no longer on the voter registration lists.”
Grunze also said that the League is currently exploring their legal options for follow-up on Friday’s ruling with The Fair Elections Center, which is representing the League.
Jon Sherman, who serves as Senior Counsel with the Center, declined to offer details about those legal options for “strategic reasons” while Reid Magney, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said in an email to WORT that the Commission will consult with the DOJ about next steps after Malloy issues his written order.
That order is expected to be issued later this week.
Maribeth Witzel-Behl is Madison’s City Clerk. She says that some voters in 20-17 were removed from the polls even though they never received a letter from the Commission.
“Some of the people who erroneously were included in this list had taken out a car loan with a co-signer, and at the DMV their address was changed to the address of the co-signer, so when the mailing was sent to them at this so-called new address, it was returned as undeliverable because they never actually were at that address. So, what we discovered in 2017 was that was that the data that is used to generate this mailing list may not be completely accurate,” says Witzel-Behl.
Witzel-Behl also says that when a letter is returned as undeliverable, the voter it was sent to is removed from the voter rolls.
As of December 5th, about 60,000 of the 234,000 letters the Wisconsin Elections Commission sent in October have been returned as undeliverable.
If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re registered, you may visit myvote.wi.gov to check.
If you’re a Madison resident who does not have access to the internet, you may instead visit or call the City Clerk’s Office during regular business hours. That number is 608-266-4601.