State Supreme Court to Hear Case on Voter Purge

By Zac Schultz

June 1, 2020

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Wisconsin Supreme Court

Wisconsin Supreme Court. (Courtesy: Shamane Mills / WPR)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court announced Monday they will hear the case on whether more than 100,000 names should be purged from Wisconsin’s voter registration rolls just a few months before the presidential election.

Last December a conservative legal group, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission in Ozaukee County, saying WEC needed to remove 234,000 names from voter registration rolls around the state because those voters had not replied to a mailing seeking to know if they had moved.

The number was closer to 129,000 as of mid-May as voters from the original 234,000 re-registered, which they need to do every time they change their address. The Elections Commission argued the mailings are not always accurate and legal voters could have their registration removed. They planned to wait until after the 2020 fall election to remove voters.

The Ozaukee County judge ruled against WEC and ordered the names removed immediately.

The elections commission appealed the case, but WILL instead asked the Supreme Court to take the case directly. Conservative Justice Daniel Kelly recused himself, because he was on the ballot during the April 7 election and said it wouldn’t look fair to rule on a case that could determine which voters were eligible in his own election.

The Supreme Court deadlocked 3-3 on whether to take the case, with conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn joining the two liberals on the court.

The case instead went to the Appeals Court, which ruled in favor of the elections commission, saying the voters should not be purged from the rolls immediately.

Now the Supreme Court will take action, and Kelly says he will rule on the case, even though he lost his election in April. His term does not end until the end of July. This will be the second time Kelly rules on a case since he became a lame-duck justice. Just recently, Kelly was the deciding vote in a case that overturned Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” orders designed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike the recent decision on “Safer at Home” orders, this decision might not come for a while. The Supreme Court has given the plaintiffs in this case 30 days to file their brief, then 20 days for the defendants to respond, and a final 10 days for a response from the plaintiffs. With that timeline and the need for the Supreme Court to schedule oral arguments and then issue a decision, it could be the end of August before a decision is made public, just a couple of months before the November election.

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