The news ricocheted around the state - 234,000 to be removed from the voter polls. It sounds terrible. Well, it probably is terrible in the sense that as with most of the Republican moves against voter fraud, it is a solution searching for a problem. At the moment it is far from clear what will actually happen as the result of a ruling in an Ozaukee County court last week. But frankly, in the big pile of things to be outraged about in Wisconsin at the moment, this is probably a minor one. Let's dive in.

Appeals and Deadlocks

Two appeals to the ruling were announced today. The state Department of Justice filed an appeal on behalf of the state Elections commission asking that the purge of voters be stayed. This was not asked for by the Elections Commission, which was deadlocked in two votes on Monday to move forward with the purge, and to find the data in ERIC, on which the purge was predicated, reliable. In both of these votes the bipartisan commission was tied 3-3 along party lines. As a result, the commission has not moved forward. Democrats on the commission felt that doing the purge at this time would complicate matters if an appeal caused a stay in the voter purge. With all of this appeal and inaction, the only likely outcome in the state will be that this will eventually be heard by the State Supreme Court, which is decidedly conservative at this time. Much of the argument of this will revolve around whether the ERIC data is reliable enough to use for rapid voter purges (a 2017 attempt at a similar purge was fairly disastrous, which is what had prompted the initial caution of the Elections Commission in removing large numbers of voters before a national election). Also the Elections Comission contends that the law does not apply to the commission itself, but to the county and city clerks in the state who do the front-line administration of voter rolls. 

Simultaneously today the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin filed a federal appeal. The League had attempted to join in fighting against the initial suit filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) but was blocked from this by Judge Malloy in his ruling. The League is now attempting an individual federal appeal based on the idea that the handling of the letters sent to the voters did not notify them that if they did not return the letter showing they still live at the address in question, they would be removed from the rolls. The suit also argues that it was not clear to the recipients what the timeline was for making a response. Indeed, those who are now on the "purge list" ave not been notified. They may simply show  to vote on election day and find out they are no longer registered. 

That 234,000 number

Another issue is that the 234,000 maximum number is somewhat fictitious. Some people will not be purged because they did return the letter. 1,666 of them. Another 13,267 of them had already registered at their new address. 54,000 more of the cards or more were returned as undeliverable, so we have to assume that those people really had moved. This leaves a little under 165,000 people who are actually on the list to be purged. So - the issue really is smaller than the initial reports seem to show. And yes, people will be removed from the voter list if the purge actually happens (see above). It is pretty hard to determine how many of those removals will be legitimate and how many will not be. Certainly, some people will be removed in error, which is an unfortunate outcome in every state that does this style of election list cleaning. 

Wisconsin is special

Interestingly, doing a voter purge this rapidly on the basis of the ERIC data would be illegal in most states because federal law restricts how quickly voters can be purged - but this does not apply in states with same-day voter registration. Wisconsin is one of those few states. So - since we have a safety check (in that people can register on the day of the election) the Wisconsin law is legal. And it really is a safety net. If you are  removed from the list in error you may re-register on-line  or register at the polls on the day of the election.

So - what do I do?

First of all,  go see if you are currently registered to vote. The upcoming elections are really important and everyone should be able to vote if they want to. And trust me, you want to. You can go to and check if your registration is valid. If not, you can register on-line with the proper documentation.

But it is a little trickier because there may or may not be a number of voters who are pulled from the voter polls before the upcoming elections, depending on the appeals and all the other variables that may come into play. I'd suggest you check again if there is an announcement of an actual voter purge. And it would not hurt to both check your registration one last time a couple of days before the election. And to be on the safe side it would not hurt anything at all if you brought along a photo ID and a proof of address when you go to vote. Worst case, you can register right at your polling place. 

Support local news with a membership!

Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers and the Local Media Association, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley



News Section

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.