By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A conservative law firm asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday to bypass a lower court and take the appeal of a ruling that ordered the purge of more than 200,000 voter registrations in the battleground state ahead of the 2020 election.
A judge ruled in favor of conservatives last week and said the Wisconsin Elections Commission must immediately deactivate more than 200,000 voter registrations of people identified as possibly having moved. The state Department of Justice appealed to the state court of appeals and asked that the ruling be put on hold.
But the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is now attempting to bypass the appeals court and have the state Supreme Court, controlled 5-2 by conservatives, immediately take the case. It argued that while the request is pending, the appeals court cannot act on the state’s request to put the judge’s ruling on hold.
That’s important because without such an order, the voters could be removed from the rolls within days rather than waiting for a final ruling in the case.
The state argued such a move would be chaotic and create confusion. But conservatives bringing the lawsuit contend they should be removed now to ensure no one who has moved votes incorrectly at their old address.
Also on Friday, Republicans who control the Legislature took steps to hire their own attorney at taxpayer expense and intervene in a federal lawsuit that’s seeking to stop the purge. That lawsuit was filed earlier this week by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin against the state Elections Commission.
The legal battles are being closely watched as the affected voters come from more heavily Democratic parts of the state. Democrats fear forcing them to re-register creates a burden and could negatively affect turnout in the 2020 presidential election. Republicans argue that removing the voters ensures the rolls are not full of people who shouldn’t be voting.
President Donald Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. The state is one of a handful of battlegrounds in the upcoming election.
Republican leaders of the state Senate and Assembly on Friday circulated a ballot to approve the hiring of a private attorney to represent them in the federal lawsuit, rather than Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul. Republicans have increasingly turned to hiring their own attorneys, paid for by taxpayers, rather than have Kaul represent them in lawsuits. Republicans don’t trust that Kaul will represent their interests because he is a Democrat.
Kaul’s spokeswoman, Gillian Drummond, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the move.
The League argues in its lawsuit that it would be a violation of constitutional due process rights to deactivate the registrations of the voters without proper notice.