State News

League of Women Voters takes legal action to defend removed voters

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin joined in a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty to support extending voting eligibility for several thousand Wisconsin voters. 

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin joined in a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty to support extending voting eligibility for several thousand Wisconsin voters. 

Image By: Thomas Yonash

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin motioned to join as a defendant in a lawsuit in Ozaukee County Friday to prevent voters from being “purged” from voting rolls “unlawfully.” 

The League — along with nonpartisan voting rights and election reform organization Fair Elections Center — argue many voters were removed from the voting rolls based on “flawed” information about home address changes. 

They joined the lawsuit in defense of Wisconsin Election Commission's decision to extend the time period voters have to state their address changes before losing their registration. 

Wisconsin uses the Electronic Registration Information Center to maintain voter rolls. When an individual uses a different address for an official government transaction, ERIC flags the “movers” to state elections agencies. 

The WEC reviews the information and then sends a notice in the form of a postcard to the potential movers' house to check if they still live there. The voter then has 30 days to respond before the WEC will make the voter ineligible to participate in elections.

The WEC changed the deadline in June 2019 to allow movers 12-24 months to update their status. This decision lead to a legal complaint filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty along with three Wisconsin voters from Ozaukee, Waukesha and Washington counties on the basis the Election Commission was not acting within state law. 

“State agencies comprised of political appointees and unelected staff do not have the authority to invent or amend policy contrary to state law,” said Rick Esenberg, WILL president and general counsel.

Erin Grunze, executive director at the LWV, explained her organization got involved after learning many voters could find their registration revoked even if they have not moved outside their municipality due to the errors.

“The League is interested in this case and wants this to be dismissed because we don’t think the information is reliable,” Grunze said.

Grunze said that when an initial voter roll purge happened in 2017, there was a discrepancy with the voter information; some people said they never received postcards, others said they were removed even though they did not move. 

Voters who expected to vote in spring 2018 elections were sometimes turned away or forced to re-register despite not knowing about the change in their status, Grunze said. 

Postcards were sent to 234,000 registered voters this October, which accounts for 7 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin. 

Grunze hopes the Election Commission still decides to keep the longer extension while also acknowledging the responsibility to maintain accurate lists so the data does not get “completely unwieldy.”

“The League supports that files and voter rolls should be kept up to date. There is no question about that,” Grunze said. “But we need to come up with a reliable process to do so.”

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