On Friday, a Wisconsin appeals court overturned a ruling that ordered state election commissioners to remove 209,000 individuals from voter rolls who are suspected as having moved out of the state.
A previous ruling on the matter last month found the commission — and specifically three of its Democratic members — in contempt of court for refusing to comply with the order, which instructed the commission to remove individuals flagged as having potentially moved and who subsequently failed to respond within 30 days to a deactivation notice.
Last fall, the deactivation notice was sent to roughly 234,000 residents, and by the end of the year, 209,000 voters had yet to respond requesting for their voter status be continued.
In the January ruling, Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy moved to fine the commission $50 a day and the three members $250 a day until the commission started the removal process. But no fines were ever paid because the Wisconsin court of appeals temporarily blocked the motion the following day.
"I can't be any clearer than this, they need to follow my order," Malloy said at the time.
But now with the new appeals court ruling, the contempt of court order has been vacated along with the order to immediately purge, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.
The battle centers on the 2020 election
When the deactivation notice was sent out to flagged individuals late last year, the commission was planning to remove those who failed to respond in 2021.
But then three voters represented by a conservative group, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, sued, appealing to a state law that calls for the removal of voters from the rolls if they do not respond to a deactivation notice. They also argued that a delay in removal could compromise the 2020 election. Judge Malloy agreed and ordered the purge.
The appeals court, however, concluded that law applies only to local clerks and not to the state election commission.
Rick Esenberg, the president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, has vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court.
"Wisconsin deserves clean elections in 2020," he said in a statement, the Journal-Sentinel reported. "It is our intent to seek review in the Wisconsin Supreme Court to ensure that the Wisconsin Elections Commission complies with state law."
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul praised the ruling, saying, "I think that this decision is a win not only for the voters who were close to being purged, but also for democracy."
Every vote counts in Wisconsin, which is projected to be a key battleground state in the upcoming presidential election. In 2016, President Donald Trump narrowly won the state by just over 20,000 votes. Wisconsin holds its primaries in April.