Voter purges put eligible Wisconsinites’ rights at risk, new report finds

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Wisconsin’s method of cleaning its voter registration list may disenfranchise a significant number of voters. 

From The Fulcrum:

A new study suggests some voters in Wisconsin, particularly members of minority communities in that perennial tossup state, may lose their voting rights thanks to flaws in the state’s process for maintaining registration lists.

At least 4 percent of Wisconsin voters’ registrations were incorrectly flagged as out of date in 2018 because they were suspected of having moved but had not done so, Yale University researchers found.

Their report offers a number of caveats that demonstrate the incorrect labeling is likely higher than 4 percent. And in a place where the state Supreme Court is considering whether to purge 129,000 voters — and where the last two contests for presidential electors were each decided by fewer than 25,000 ballots — every registration is critical.

Wisconsin participates in the Electronic Registration Information Center, which shares data (like motor vehicle and Postal Service records) among 30 states and Washington, D.C., to help them maintain voter registration lists, or poll books. Yale’s researchers, led by political science professor Gregory Huber, compared ERIC’s Wisconsin data to actual voter files from 2018 and 2019.

From there, they could determine which suspected movers never responded to the state’s postcards seeking address confirmation but still cast ballots at the addresses on file — data totaling at least 9,000 registrants, or 4 percent of the registered voters. And minority voters were twice as likely as white voters to be mislabeled.

Read the full story here

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The racial burden of voter list maintenance errors: Evidence from Wisconsin’s supplemental movers poll books

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Administrative records are increasingly used to identify registered voters who may have moved, with potential movers then sent postcards asking them to confirm their address of registration.

From Science Advances:

Administrative records are increasingly used to identify registered voters who may have moved, with potential movers then sent postcards asking them to confirm their address of registration. It is important to understand how often these registrants did not move, and how often such an error is not corrected by the postcard confirmation process, because uncorrected errors make it more difficult for a registrant to subsequently vote. While federal privacy protections generally prevent researchers from observing the data necessary to estimate these quantities, we are able to study this process in Wisconsin because special poll books, available via public records requests, listed those registrants who were identified as potential movers and did not respond to a subsequent postcard. At least 4% of these registrants cast a ballot at their address of registration, with minority registrants twice as likely as white registrants to do so.

Read the full research article here.

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Rightwing group nearly forced Wisconsin to purge thousands of eligible voters

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New state data shows removal of almost 17,000 eligible voters ahead of 2020 election could have been disastrous

From The Guardian:

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.

Read the full story here.

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

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

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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.

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