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Wisconsin judge holds election officials in contempt for defying purge of 209,000 voters

Voter roll purge ordered in Wisconsin

Washington — A Wisconsin judge has found the state's election commission and some of its members in contempt for failing to comply with an order to immediately purge more than 200,000 voters from the state's rolls.

Ozaukee County Circuit Court Judge Paul Malloy said the Wisconsin Elections Commission must begin deactivating the 209,000 voter registrations belonging to people believed to have moved. If it does not, three of its six commissioners will be fined $250 per day until they comply with a December order to remove the voters from the rolls. The commission also faces a fine of $50 per day.

Three of the six members of the commission voted not to take action on the list of voters flagged for removal.

Malloy also rejected a request from the state to halt his order pending an appeal.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, said in a statement he is "disappointed" by the ruling.

"The outcome of this case will impact the voter registrations of well over 100,000 Wisconsinites," he said. "Appellate review of such a consequential decision is clearly appropriate, and the Wisconsin Elections Commission has diligently sought such review."

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm, asked the court earlier this month to hold the commission and five of its six members in contempt and impose a hefty daily fine against them. 

The group's motion stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty in November against the state's election agency, after the agency said it would wait 12 to 24 months before purging voters who failed to respond to a notice mailed by the state.

Under state law, Wisconsin voters believed to have moved are sent a notice from the elections commission to the address on their voter registration and have 30 days to confirm their address or update their information. Those who fail to take action are removed from voter rolls.

The state sent notices to more than 232,000 voters and later identified 209,000 who were sent the mailing and either did not respond or whose letter was returned as undeliverable.

Malloy last month ordered the Wisconsin Elections Commission to immediately toss out those registrations.

The agency appealed the order to the state court of appeals, and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty asked the state Supreme Court to take up the case. The appeals court said it would not take action because of the pending request before Wisconsin's high court.

But later Monday, the state Supreme Court deadlocked 3-3 on whether to take up the dispute over the voter purge immediately, so the case remains with the appeals court.

Wisconsin is a key battleground state in the 2020 presidential election. President Trump won the state in 2016 by nearly 23,000 votes, meaning the removal of more than 230,000 voters could have a significant impact on the next contest.

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