New state data shows removal of almost 17,000 eligible voters ahead of 2020 election could have been disastrous
A well-connected conservative group in Wisconsin nearly succeeded in forcing the state to kick nearly 17,000 eligible voters off its rolls ahead of the 2020 election, new state data reveals.
The group, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (Will), caused a national uproar in late 2019 when it successfully convinced a county judge to order the state to immediately remove more than 232,000 people Wisconsin suspected of moving homes from the state’s voter rolls. The state, relying on government records, had sent a postcard to all of those voters asking them to confirm their address, and Will sought to remove anyone who had not responded within 30 days.
Democrats on the commission refused to comply with the order, believing that they didn’t have the authority to immediately remove the voters and that the underlying data wasn’t reliable, and wanted to give voters until April 2021 to confirm their address before they removed them. Appeals courts intervened and blocked the removals; the case is currently pending before the Wisconsin supreme court. There were still more than 71,000 voters still on the list at the end of January who did not respond to the mailer (152,524 people on the list updated their registration at a new address).
But new data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission shows how disastrous such a purge could have been. And the dispute underscores the way fights over how states remove people from their voter rolls – often called purging – has become a critical part of protecting voting rights in America.
Across the country, Republicans and conservative groups have pushed for aggressive purging, saying it helps prevent fraud. Democrats and voting rights groups say the process can be done haphazardly, leaving eligible voters, particularly minority groups and students, at risk of being wrongly purged.