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Conservative Group Files Legal Complaint Against Wisconsin Elections Commission

Wisconsin Institute For Law And Liberty Says Commission Is Violating State Law On Maintaining Voter Rolls

A voter retrieves her "I Voted" sticker
Richard Drew/AP Photo

A conservative advocacy group filed a legal complaint Wednesday against Wisconsin’s elections agency, contending the agency is breaking a state law about maintaining voter rolls.

The complaint, brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), argues the Wisconsin Elections Commission is, in some cases, waiting too long to update Wisconsin’s database of registered voters after a voter moves within Wisconsin or out of state.

Lucas Vebber, deputy counsel at WILL, said the commissions’ actions could make the state vulnerable to voter fraud.

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“Keeping our elections accurate and safe begins with an accurate voter roll,” Vebber said.

The Elections Commission is alerted to potential movers by the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a nonprofit, multi-state group that helps member states keep their voter registration lists current. ERIC identifies individuals who may have changed addresses after they file official government paperwork with a new address, like a vehicle registration or change of address form.

After receiving a notification from ERIC, the commission sends a postcard to the address where the potential mover is registered to vote and asks them to confirm whether they still live there.

If the commission doesn’t receive a response, that individual is removed from the state’s active voter rolls at that address.

According to a press release from the commission, postcards were sent to 234,000 potential movers earlier this month.

In that statement, the commission noted potential movers who don’t respond to the postcard will not be removed from the active poll list until after the spring election in 2021.

However, WILL points out in its complaint that state law dictates the commission must remove individuals who don’t respond to the postcard within 30 days.

“Our primary concern and the main reason for filing this complaint is to get the Wisconsin Elections Commission to do what the law says,” Vebber said.

In a March 2019 memo, commission staff told commission members they have the authority to bypass the 30-day requirement in state law because another state law gives the commission the ability to create rules related to maintaining the voter registration list.

“Given that no deactivation of voter records would occur under the proposed process until after the 2021 Spring Election, there is some time for the Commission to adopt a policy and obtain feedback from the Legislature as to whether the procedures should be enacted through legislation or administrative rules,” the memo read.

Vebber said WILL had not been in contact with the Elections Commission about the policy prior to filing the legal complaint. He said WILL will move forward with filing a lawsuit if the commission doesn’t change its policy to reflect state law.

Wisconsin joined ERIC in 2016. According to the commission, it sent its first mailing to 342,000 potential movers in 2017 and removed anyone who didn’t respond within a month. Only 6,153 voters responded to the postcard and requested to stay on the rolls at their current address, according to the commission, meaning more than 335,000 were removed.

The state has roughly 3.3 million registered voters.