A Wisconsin judge found the state’s elections commission to be in contempt Jan. 13. The judge ordered the removal of up to 209,000 names from the state’s voting lists, effective immediately, or face fines for each day it does not, according to AP News. 

Last month Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy sided with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, who filed a lawsuit and ordered a list of voter registrations to be deactivated. When the elections commission did not immediately act to remove the voters, Malloy found it and three Democratic commissioners who voted against moving ahead with the purge in contempt, according to AP News.

The District 4 Court of Appeals issued two stay orders Jan. 14, one temporarily halting the December ruling by Malloy to purge people from Wisconsin’s voter list, and the other temporarily blocking Malloy’s ruling that three members of the Elections Commission be held in contempt, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. 

At least for the time being, hundreds of thousands of names will remain on Wisconsin’s voter rolls and members of the Elections Commission won’t be fined.

Public information officer at the Wisconsin Election Commission Reid Magney said no one is officially removed from the voter list yet.

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Magney explained the elections commission sent out mailing in October to approximately 232,000 voters who may have moved. Under Wisconsin law, if someone moves, they need to re-register to vote under their new address. The election commission sent out similar mailing in 2017. 

Magney said the information they get from this process is not always reliable. Because of this, the commission decided in 2019 it would decide to send out mailers to people and give them time to respond. 

“If you get one of these letters, it tells you it looks like you may have moved. If you have not moved, you can go to our My Vote Wisconsin website, and you can let us know you are still living where you were originally registered,” Magney said. 

Magney added if they move, they can re-register to vote online. They could also go to their regular polling place during any of the four regularly scheduled elections in 2020 and confirm their address where they are registered. 

“After every general election, we look back four years and see who has not. We send them a postcard that says according to our records they have not voted in 4 years,” Magney said. “If you want to remain registered to vote just return the postcard or contact us and you will stay on the list.”

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If the election commission does not hear from residents within thirty days or if the postcard comes back as undeliverable, the people are deactivated and will need to register again. Magney said this process has been in place for more than a decade.

The WILL filed a complaint against the WEC and shortly after sued the WEC, claiming the election commission was doing something wrong and stated the commission should be removing the people who were sent letters in October if they did not hear back within thirty days, Magney explained. 

Malloy agreed with WILL and said the WEC should remove the people immediately. The WEC appealed the decision and last week the Wisconsin Court of Appeals stayed Malloy’s decision, Magney said. While the case is on appeal, no voters will be removed from the list. 

Magney explained when the mailing was sent, the WEC released a list of how many voters were in each municipality. Magney said somebody may have looked at it and thought there were more people in strongly Democratic areas like Milwaukee and Madison.  

“We have no idea which voters are Republicans or Democrats or independents. In Wisconsin, you don’t register by party. We don’t have any information about what party people are in,” Magney said.

According to AP News, Democrats are fighting the lawsuit by claiming the purge would unfairly affect their voters. Republicans claim they want to ensure people who have moved are not able to vote from their old addresses.

WILL tried to take the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court who declined its request to immediately hear the case. The case is now in a lower state appeals court and will likely not be resolved before the November presidential election, according to AP News. 

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Further direction includes both sides submitting briefs and arguments explaining their viewpoint and interpretation of the law. The court of appeals will consider it and make a decision. The losing party can appeal the decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Out of the 232,000 people, 90% moved and need to reregister, Magney said, but it is unclear who those people are. Magney added most of the errors come from the Department of Motor Vehicles records. According to AP News, the commission wanted to wait until after the November 2020 presidential election before removing anyone because of such inaccuracies.

Even if a voter’s registration is deactivated, they can register again later or on Election Day at the polls if they have the necessary documents.

According to AP News, dozens of people rallied outside the courthouse before the hearing to protest the voter registration deactivation. Organizers said the purge would unfairly affect voters of color. 

Rev. Greg Lewis, head of the get-out-the-vote group Souls to the Polls Milwaukee, said we need to get better as the world is changing.

“We can’t afford to go backward,” Lewis said. “Having a situation where you just treat folks who are already fragile in an indecent way is such a travesty of justice.”