Wisconsin Judge Orders Commission to Remove up to 209,000 Names From Voter Rolls

A Wisconsin judge told the state Elections Commission to remove thousands of people from its voter rolls, after finding three members of the commission in contempt of court for ignoring an order he gave in December 2019.

“I can’t be any clearer than this,” Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy said on Monday. “They need to follow my order.”

“They created this situation by disregarding the 30-day notice,” he said.

The commission needs to pay $50 a day until it starts purging people from the rolls. The judge also charged the three Democratic commissioners who have battled against removing people from the rolls $250 a day each.

“If people are free to disregard a court’s order, then where do you start and stop with that? How do you enforce that? What happens to our justice system if people can just say, well ‘that’s one guy’s interpretation of the statue.’ Sure it’s one guy’s interpretation, but he’s a judge. That’s what he’s paid to do,” Malloy said. “Our justice system will cease to work,” he later added.

Ann Jacobs, one of the three commissioners, responded by saying she didn’t want to start taking people off the rolls despite the judicial order.

“If we are going to treat voting as the central component of our democracy, we need to be far less cavalier about taking people off the rolls,” she said, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The commission, which also includes three Republicans, will meet on Tuesday to decide whether to start purging names from the rolls.

Hundreds of thousands of names could be removed through the order, which was initially made last month.

It came after the state Elections Commission sent notices to more than 230,000 people that were thought to have moved and requested that they update their voter registrations or state that they hadn’t moved.

If they didn’t respond, they were in danger of being removed from the rolls by 2021.

A sign is posted to give voters information about where to cast their midterm ballots at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Cultural Center in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin on Nov. 6, 2018. (Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

“We want voters to be prepared for 2020,” said Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin’s chief elections official, at the time. “This mailing is designed to help people who may have moved within Wisconsin make sure they’re ready to vote next year. It will not keep anyone eligible from voting.”

“If you move, even to an apartment in the same building, you must update your voter record by reregistering,” Wolfe said.

Some 209,000 haven’t responded.

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty brought a case by three voters, who said the state should remove them from the rolls faster. Judge Malloy agreed and ordered the purge, but the commission hasn’t taken action. The Republican commissioners said they had been trying to follow the order but were blocked by Democrats.

The commission said in a statement just before the New Year that it would “await further direction from the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty President Rick Esenberg said during the hearing that his firm filed a motion for contempt on Jan. 2 because the commission wasn’t acting on the Dec. 17, 2019, order.

“We asked for the sanctions because we don’t know what else to do. We were granted an order 30 days ago and a state agency is not complying. It is simply astonishing,” he told the judge. “They simply did not comply… one commissioner said ‘the law is not the law until the Court of Appeals decides.’ That is not correct.”

In a statement after the ruling, Esenberg said, “Court orders are not, and have never been, optional. It our hope that today’s decision will cause the Wisconsin Elections Commission to finally follow state law.”

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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