By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — More than a quarter-million voters in Wisconsin who have recently moved could be made ineligible to vote before next year’s presidential primary election if a complaint filed Wednesday by a conservative law firm is successful.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty argues that the state Elections Commission broke the law when it decided to wait as long as two years, rather than 30 days, to make voters ineligible for having moved. The complaint asks that the decision be immediately revoked, a step that could lead to as many as 234,000 voters losing their eligibility until they can confirm their addresses or be re-registered.
The outcome could affect how many voters are able to cast ballots in both the April presidential primary and November 2020 general election in Wisconsin, a swing state that both parties are anxious to win. President Donald Trump narrowly won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016.
The concern from liberals is that young and low-income voters who are more likely to vote Democratic are also more likely to be flagged as movers. The result, they fear, is that more Democrats will be made ineligible than Republicans.
Analiese Eicher, director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Institute, which successfully sued to block limits on voting, said this was an attempt to “bully the Elections Commission into a backdoor voter roll purge.”
Reid Magney, Elections Commission spokesman, declined to comment on the complaint on Wednesday.
Last week, the commission mailed notices to 234,000 voters identified as possibly having moved. The multi-state Electronic Registration Information Center flagged those voters using a review of documents from sources such as the Post Office and Division of Motor Vehicles, which can be used to learn if a person may have moved.
Of the voters who receive the postcards, only those who do not respond with a confirmation of their address will be flagged as movers and made ineligible. The exact point in dispute is how much time should be allowed.
In a vote taken in June, the Elections Commission decided that anyone who receives such a postcard should have two years. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, also known as WILL, in contrast contends that the two-year grace period conflicts with a state law requiring such voters to be made ineligible if they fail to respond within 30 days. WILL also contends that maintaining an accurate list of who is registered to vote in Wisconsin is a matter of election security.
According to the commission’s decision, voters flagged as movers will not be made ineligible ahead of the February primary elections for the state Supreme Court race and various local offices. It will also mean they will remain eligible for the April presidential primary and spring general election, when a Supreme Court justice will be elected.
Voters who are made inactive will be able to be re-registered at the polls on election day if they have the required form of identification and proof of residence.
WILL filed its complaint on the behalf of three voters. It warns that if the commission doesn’t take immediate action, it will file a lawsuit. Rick Esenberg, the group’s president, said in a statement that the commission has no authority to “invent or amend policy contrary to state law.”
Commission staff said in a memo from March that the commission had the authority to delay making the voters ineligible beyond 30 days because another state law gives it the ability to create rules maintaining the state’s voter-registration list.
Staff employees said in the memo that since no voter would be removed until after the April 2021 election, there would be time to hear from the Legislature about whether a law change was necessary.
The complaint filed Wednesday, and possible lawsuit, would force a resolution of that question.
Questions about removing voters who may have moved came to the forefront in 2017 after the commission mailed post cards to 343,000 potential movers and made more than 335,000 ineligible after they did not respond. That led to complaints from voters and election officials, resulting in the drawing up of a supplemental voter list for elections last year. Anyone on that list who came to the polls to vote and affirmed he had not moved was able to vote without having to be registered again.
There are about 3.3 million registered voters in Wisconsin out of about 4.5 million people who are of voting age.