Wisconsin voter purge ruling appealed to state Supreme Court

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A conservative law firm on Tuesday asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reverse a lower court’s order putting on hold a ruling that would have forced the removal of up to 209,000 people from the state’s voter rolls.

Attorneys for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty asked the state Supreme Court to overturn the state appeals court’s Jan. 14 decision that placed the original ruling on hold. It also asked the high court to undo the stay of a contempt order against the state Elections Commission that the lower court had issued after the commission failed to proceed with the voter purge.

The state Supreme Court on Jan. 13 declined to take the case and bypass the state appeals court. Less than 24 hours later, the appeals court issued its orders that effectively hit the pause button on the case and halted any immediate change to the state’s voter registration rolls.

But the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty argued on Tuesday that the state Supreme Court should reverse the appeals court orders because at the time they were issued the appeals court offered no rationale for its action.

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However, hours after that motion was filed Tuesday, the appeals court issued its full ruling with its reasoning for putting the cases on hold.

The three judges on the appeals court panel said they granted the stay because the elections commission was likely to succeed on appeal. It also said the elections commission makes a “strong argument” that the power under the law to deactivate a voter applies to local election officials, not the state commission. The lower court judge ordered the commission to remove the voters.

Rick Esenberg, president of the law firm bringing the case, said in a statement before the appeals court released its rationale that it wanted the Supreme Court to determine whether a stay was warranted, no matter what the reasoning.

Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney declined to comment.

The case has gotten a lot of attention because Wisconsin is among a group of swing states being targeted by Democrats and President Donald Trump this year. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by fewer than 23,000 votes, putting even more of a focus on every voter in the state.

The voter purge lawsuit argued that the state elections commission broke the law when it did not remove voters from the rolls who did not respond within 30 days to a mailing in October indicating they may have moved. The commission wanted to wait until after the November 2020 presidential election before removing anyone because of inaccuracies found while previously attempting to identify voters who may have moved.

There are a number of elections coming soon, including a February primary for a state Supreme Court seat, a primary in the special election to fill the 7th Congressional District seat and races for a host of local offices. Wisconsin’s presidential primary is April 7.

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