A Wisconsin judge ordered the removal of nearly 234,000 people from the state’s voter rolls on Friday because they may have moved, a controversial court decision that could influence the 2020 election in a state Donald Trump narrowly won in 2016.
In October, the Wisconsin Elections Commission sent a letter warning nearly a quarter-million voters they’d need to reregister their addresses to remain on the voter rolls because the commission believed they had moved.
“If you move, even to an apartment in the same building, you must update your voter record by reregistering,” Wisconsin’s chief elections official, Meagan Wolfe, said at the time.
The letter didn’t give people a deadline to reregister and an October press release from the elections commission said anyone who received the letter would remain on the list of eligible voters until 2021. But a lawsuit filed in October by the conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty said the elections commission is required by law to purge anyone who received the letter from the voter rolls if they do not reregister within 30 days of receipt.
On Friday, Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy agreed wholeheartedly. Whereas the conservative group simply sought an injunction from the court requiring the commission to purge the voters ahead of its 2021 date, Malloy ordered the commission to do so within 30 days.
“I don’t want to see someone deactivated, but I don’t write the law,” said Malloy, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “There’s no basis for saying 12 to 24 months is a good time frame. It’s not that difficult to do it sooner.”
Malloy was appointed to the bench in 2002 by Republican Gov. Scott McCallum.
Reporting on the lawsuit for HuffPost in October, Sam Levine noted a 2017 effort by election officials in Wisconsin to purge voters with inconsistent addresses misidentified thousands of people as having moved and deactivated their registration.
“Some people had registered vehicles at an address other than where they voted,” Levine wrote. “To the state, it looked like they had moved. Ultimately, more than 18,000 people deactivated from the voter rolls were subsequently reactivated in 2018.”
The Journal Sentinel reported Democratic-leaning areas would be hit harder by the voter purge than Republican ones. On Friday, Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers denounced the purge as a voter suppression effort.
Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 22,748 votes in Wisconsin in 2016.
Wisconsin is the latest state with a Republican secretary of state to authorize a sweeping voter purge after Trump was elected. Similar attempts this year in both Ohio and Georgia have garnered national attention, and a thwarted attempt to purge the voter rolls in Texas resulted in the secretary of state’s resignation.