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Democrats in battleground Wisconsin are fighting to block judge's order to remove 209,000 voters from voter rolls
Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Democrats in battleground Wisconsin are fighting to block judge's order to remove 209,000 voters from voter rolls

President Trump won Wisconsin by just over 20,000 votes in 2016

A conservative law firm asked a judge Thursday to place the Wisconsin Elections Commission in contempt and fine its members following its refusal to purge the voter rolls of 209,000 voters who may have moved away.

In December, Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy ordered the immediate removal of voters from voter rolls who were flagged as having potentially moved and failed to respond within 30 days to a deactivation notice sent by the elections commission.

The notice had been sent to roughly 234,000 residents in October. As of Thursday, 209,000 voters had yet to request continuation at their current address or re-register at different one.

Soon after the order was given, election commission attorneys requested that Judge Malloy put his decision on hold, but he denied it. The election commission subsequently filed an appeal.

'Court orders are not suggestions'

Rick Esenberg, leader of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, the organization that filed the lawsuit, argues the commission must purge the voters immediately regardless of their pending appeal and is breaking state law by not doing so.

"Court orders are not suggestions," Esenberg said, according to PBS News Hour. "They are not rendered inoperative by the fact that you filed an appeal."

Esenberg's organization filed a motion Thursday requesting that the judge fine five of the election commission's six members $2,000 a day for each day that they continue to decline following the court order. The member not included in the motion was not part of the commission when the order was given.

Esenberg has also asked the Supreme Court of Wisconsin take up the case, which is currently before a state appeals court.

Democrats are fighting to block the purge

Democrats in the key battleground state fear that the voter roll purge will hurt their chances of defeating President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Trump narrowly won the state by just over 20,000 votes in 2016.

In December, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit to stop the purge, arguing that deactivating the registrations of the voters without proper notice would violate constitutional due process rights.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party is also fighting the order by using the state's open records law to obtain the names of everyone who would be purged and systematically contact likely Democrats to re-register them, state party Chairman Ben Wikler told the Associated Press.

"This is an organizing challenge, not a crisis," Wikler said. He said purging the voters "just adds to our to-do list. It's a reason to work, not to freak out."

Elected Democratic politicians also publicly called out the court order.

"I won the race for governor by less than 30,000 votes," Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tweeted following the order. "This move pushed by Republicans to remove 200,000 Wisconsinites from the voter rolls is just another attempt at overriding the will of the people and stifling the democratic process."

Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Republicans were trying to "rig" the vote.

The Associated Press reported that most of the affected voters come from Democratic areas of the state, and that Democrats are afraid forcing deactivated voters to re-register would be burdensome and consequently harm turnout.

Republicans, on the other hand, argue that removing the voters is a necessary safety measure that would cut down on fraud. The purge would ensure that the rolls are not full of people who should not be voting.

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