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Reversing a lower court decision, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has paused the planned purge of over 200,000 voters. A three judge panel issued a stay of the circuit court’s order pending further review. Tuesday’s decision also overturned a contempt order from an Ozuakee County judge finding the Wisconsin Election Commission and the Democratic commissioners did not comply with his earlier order to remove the voters.

Split along party lines, the election commission was unable to come to a resolution Tuesday morning about how to proceed after the Court of Appeals’ ruling. Raising concerns about “clean” voter rolls, Republican commissioners have proposed sending a new round of letters to address due process concerns with the initial “movers mailing,” which gave voters at potentially new addresses 30 days to respond or be purged from the rolls. Meanwhile, Democratic commissioners have argued caution in how to proceed to avoid voter confusion.

In a Wednesday afternoon notice, the Wisconsin Election Commission Administrator explained that the previously approved process would be implemented while the Court of Appeals is considering the Commission’s appeal of the Ozaukee County Circuit Court decision. For the time being, none of the voters previously identified will be purged.

As previously reported, Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy held that the Wisconsin Election Commission was required to purge voters identified from the rolls without delay. Noting that prior voter purges impacted voters who should not have been removed from the rolls, Democratic commissioners argued in favor of proceeding more slowly to avoid a repeat of those issues. Judge Malloy suggested the commission engage the legislature to make needed changes not currently covered by the law. 

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed suit alleging that the commission’s plan for removal violated state law mandating removal of voters from the rolls if a response was not received within 30 days of the mailing. In a comment to the initial WILL complaint, the Commission explained that the process undertaken in the 2019 mailing to voters was informed by lessons learned from a prior mailing.

Over one-third of the mailers sent out went to Milwaukee and Dane counties, home to the majority of Wisconsin’s Black voters. Wisconsin is one of six states not covered by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993. Under the NVRA, people who update their address at a Department of Motor Vehicles do not have to separately update their address with the governing election authority in covered states.

Groups such as the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information are planning a large mailing to 133,458 people in 1,762 Wisconsin municipalities. Covering both registered voters who may have moved and non-registered voters, the mailings will include instructions about the voter education process .

In recent years voter purges have received more attention. Given the high stakes at election time, voter purges raise concerns of voter suppression. Opponents of purges argue that care must be taken in removing people from voter rolls to ensure voters are not disenfranchised in the process.

Anoa Changa

Anoa Changa is a journalist and organizer focused on innovating electoral justice coverage. Follow her on Twitter at @thewaywithanoa.