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Wisconsin Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Whether 130,000 Can Be Purged from Voter Rolls


Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court on Monday agreed to take up a case concerning whether approximately 129,000 people currently registered to vote in the state can be purged from voter rolls.

The Court in January split 3-3, declining to hear the case on expedited appeal, with conservative Justice Daniel Kelly recusing himself from the decision because he was up for re-election in April. Kelly, who went on to lose that election to progressive Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky, will now participate in the case until he has to step down from the bench on Aug. 1.

The justices set a briefing schedule that will last up to 60 days, with the parties having 30 days to submit initial briefs to the court and an additional 30 days for reply briefs, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The decision could have a major impact on the 2020 U.S. presidential election, as Wisconsin is a critical swing state which President Donald Trump won in 2016 by a mere 22,748 votes — less than one percentage point.

The controversy arose late last year when the state Election Commission sent letters to approximately 234,000 voters believed to have moved to new addresses. The letters requested those voters that had moved to update their registration accordingly, and asked those who had not moved to inform their local election officials that their residence remained the same.

Recipients who failed to respond to the commission’s letter–regardless of whether or not they had moved—were originally scheduled to be removed from voter rolls in 2021 until a conservative group called the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit claiming the state was legally required to purge the names of any citizen who failed to respond within 30 days of receiving the commission’s mailing.

An Ozaukee County judge initially ordered the Commission to immediately purge the voter rolls, even holding Democrats on the Commission in contempt of court for failing to abide by his order. A three-judge appellate court panel in February unanimously overturned the ruling, deciding that the names could remain on the rolls through 2020. WILL then filed another appeal to the state’s highest court, this time with Justice Kelly participating in the decision.

Details of how individual Justices voted was not available as of Monday, according to a Wisconsin Public Radio report.

It is unclear if the case will be decided before the 2020 election, though the briefing schedule means Karofsky will be sworn in prior to any ruling being issued. Her presence on the bench shifts the court’s 5-2 conservative majority to 4-3.

[image via Loren Elliott/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.