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In Closely Divided Wisconsin, the Battle for Votes Is Already Underway

A legal challenge over who can vote in Wisconsin has set off a furious fight, a reflection of political tension in a pivotal state for the presidential race.

Jan. 14, 2020
By Mitch Smith and Michael Wines

MADISON, Wis. — It began with what seemed like a simple question: If a computer says voters have moved and are no longer eligible to vote at their old addresses, should the voters be struck from the rolls even if the computer has a history of mistakes?

An election volunteer helped register voters in Waukesha, Wis., in 2018.Credit – Tim Gruber for The New York Times

When Wisconsin election officials first pondered the question a few months ago, it ruled unanimously against the computer and for preserving the voters’ registrations, at least temporarily. But what once seemed a matter of electoral housekeeping has morphed into a political cage fight that has sprawled across four courts, split the state’s Elections Commission and spurred intimations of voter suppression and voter fraud.

In other words, it is business as usual in Wisconsin, a partisan hothouse where elections can turn on onionskin margins and every ballot is potential booty in a political death struggle. Memories of President Trump’s victory in Wisconsin in 2016 by fewer than 23,000 votes remain fresh. And as Americans gird for a raucous election year, the scuffle over who stays on Wisconsin’s voting rolls may also portend similar struggles nationwide.

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Voter Purge News

Judge orders state to purge more than 200,000 Wisconsin voters from the rolls

PORT WASHINGTON – An Ozaukee County judge on Friday ordered the state to remove hundreds of thousands of people from Wisconsin’s voter rolls because they may have moved.   

Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy, shown during a 2015 hearing. (Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The case is being closely watched because of the state’s critical role in next year’s presidential race. Circuit Judge Paul Malloy also denied the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin’s petition to intervene.

Lawyers for the League and for the Wisconsin Elections Commission indicated they will appeal and asked Malloy to stay his ruling pending those appeals, but he declined.

At issue is a letter the state Elections Commission sent in October to about 234,000 voters who it believes may have moved. The letter asked the voters to update their voter registrations if they had moved or alert election officials if they were still at their same address. 

The commission planned to remove the letter’s recipients from the voter rolls in 2021 if it hadn’t heard from them. But Malloy’s decision would kick them off the rolls much sooner, and well before the 2020 presidential election.

Continue reading at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website.