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Wisconsin election commissioners refused to remove 209,000 people from voter rolls. Now a judge has found them in contempt of court.


'I can't be any clearer than this. They need to follow my order.'

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Wisconsin judge found the state's election commission and three of its members in contempt of court Monday for refusing to comply with his court order to remove more than 200,000 individuals from voter rolls.

Judge Paul Malloy fined the commission $50 a day until it begins removing people from the rolls and is fining the three Democratic members who fought his previous order — Ann Jacobs, Julie Glancey and Mark Thomsen — $250 a day, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

"I can't be any clearer than this," Malloy said. "They need to follow my order."

What's the background?

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

In October, the deactivation notice had been sent to 234,000 residents. By the end of the year, 209,000 voters had yet to respond asking for their voter status be continued.

But the election commission — made up of three Democrats and three Republicans — has been deadlocked and has failed to comply with the court order.

Cleaning up the voter rolls in the state had become a partisan issue, with Democrats in the key battleground state fearing that a voter roll purge would hurt their chances of defeating President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Trump won the state in 2016 by just over 20,000 votes.

Republicans, on the other hand, have argued that removing the voters is a necessary measure aimed at eliminating fraud. This way, the voter rolls would not be full of people who should not be voting.

In late December, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a conservative law firm, filed a lawsuit against the commission, asking Judge Malloy to find the commission in contempt and fine its members.

What happens next?

As a result of the new ruling, the commission is set to meet again on Tuesday to decide whether to begin removing people from the rolls, a process that takes about three days.

Ann Jacobs, one of the Democratic commission members, maintains that Judge Malloy's initial findings are incorrect and desires to continue appealing the court order.

"If we are going to treat voting as the central component of our democracy, we need to be far less cavalier about taking people off the rolls," she said, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Robert Spindell, a Republican who was recently added to the commission, hoped the new ruling would prompt bipartisanship moving forward on the voter purge.

"I am pleased with the decision and I hope all six of us on the Elections Commission follow the law and follow the judge's order. I know at least three of us will," Spindell said.

Spindell had reportedly encouraged Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty to file its lawsuit before he was appointed to the commission.

Rich Esenberg, president of the firm, responded to the ruling, saying in a statement: "Court orders are not, and have never been, optional. It is our hope that today's decision will cause the Wisconsin Elections Commission to finally follow state law."

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