A Wisconsin judge on Monday found the state’s Elections Commission and three of its members in contempt of court and ordered the commission to remove up to 209,000 names from the state's voter rolls, in a case that could have major implications later this year in a key battleground state.
Saying in his ruling that “time is of the essence,” Judge Paul Malloy said that there is no time to wait for the case to make its way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and ordered that the state pay $50 a day until it starts removing people from the voter rolls.
Malloy also ordered that the three Democrats on the commission – Ann Jacobs, Julie Glancy and Mark Thomsen – pay $250 a day each. The state Justice Department asked Malloy to stay his order of contempt pending an appeal of his ruling, but the judge denied the request.
"I can’t be any clearer than this," Malloy said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "They need to follow my order."
The case is being closely tracked on a national level, as Wisconsin is one of the most politically prized states up for grabs in this year’s presidential election. President Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016, becoming the first Republican to win Wisconsin since 1984, after Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton infamously failed to campaign in the state. Democrats are trying to remedy their loss this election season by holding the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this summer and aggressively targeting voters in the Badger State.
State Democrats in Wisconsin are fighting the lawsuit, saying the purge would unfairly affect their voters. Republicans, however, argue that they merely want to ensure that people who have moved are not able to vote from their old addresses.
Those bringing the lawsuit argue that the state elections commission, which includes an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, broke the law when it did not remove voters from the rolls who did not respond within 30 days to a mailing in October indicating they may have moved.
The commission wanted to wait until after the November 2020 presidential election before it removed anyone because of inaccuracies with a previous round of data identifying voters who had potentially moved. Even if a voter has their registration deactivated, they can register again later or on Election Day when they show up at the polls, assuming they have the required documentation.
Malloy last month sided with conservatives who filed the lawsuit and ordered that the voters have their registrations deactivated. The elections commission has deadlocked on when to do that, however. That led to the filing of a motion to find the commission in contempt and face $12,000 a day in fines if it doesn't move to purge the voters.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Justice asked both a state appeals court and the state Supreme Court to put the earlier ruling on hold. The appeals court said it wouldn't take action because of the pending request before the state Supreme Court that it takes the case. The high court has not said what it will do.
The affected voters come more heavily from Democratic areas of Wisconsin, including Milwaukee and cities with college campuses. Democrats fear forcing voters whose registration was nullified to re-register would create a burden on them and hurt turnout. Republicans argue that removing the voters would ensure that the rolls are not full of people who shouldn't be voting.
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin also filed a federal lawsuit to stop the purge. That lawsuit argues that it would be a violation of constitutional due process rights to deactivate the registrations of the voters without proper notice. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and the Republican-controlled Legislature are both seeking to intervene in that lawsuit and have it dismissed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.