Dem appointees on the Wisconsin Elections Commission Monday blocked a motion from their GOP counterparts to quickly comply with a judge’s formal order to strike voters who may have moved.
The notices were sent in October to roughly 234,000 people flagged as possibly having moved, and an Ozaukee judge ruled from the bench Friday those who failed to respond within 30 days should be removed from the rolls.
It was one of two motions by Chair Dean Knudson, an appointee of Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, that the commission deadlocked on during a contentious telephone conference this morning.
The other would have enshrined in policy that information on movers received from the Electronic Registration Information Center is reliable.
But the panel’s Dems vigorously opposed both motions. The effort was led by Ann Jacobs, who was appointed by Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, and Mark Thomsen, the former chair of the commission and an appointee of Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz.
Jacobs accused Knudson of “cavalierly” introducing the motion to treat ERIC data as reliable after returning from a closed-door “litigation update.”
“What you have just suggested is a fairly profound and important change; it would be a complete turnaround from the last time we addressed this,” she said. “We don’t have materials on it. We don’t have anything written in front of us.”
Thomsen, meanwhile, noted the commission previously voted 5-1 that information on movers received from ERIC wasn’t reliable, because it contained an up to a 7 percent error rate. He said it was “an unconstitutional burden” for those misidentified as movers to be tossed off the rolls and forced to re-register.
“When we know we have a very, very high error rate, it would be absurd for us on a Monday morning without notice to flip flop like this because we have a decision from one court,” he said. “All due respect to this judge, the final decision will come from the appellate courts and that will be the law.”
Thomsen added the commission had yet to see Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy’s written order or a transcript of court proceedings and would be basing its decision to codify ERIC’s reliability off of media coverage, a move he said was “completely irresponsible” and would “destroy our reputation that we’ve worked so hard to build.”
“For me to say, based on a newspaper article, that the ERIC findings are reliable in light of our years of experience to the contrary is absurd,” he said.
Thomsen, Jacobs and Julie Glancey — the panel’s other Dem-appointed member — all voted against the motion, leaving it short of the four votes needed to pass.
A WEC spokesman indicated the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, the conservative organization serving as legal counsel for the plaintiffs, is currently drafting the written order. The spokesman said the state Department of Justice would have an opportunity to analyze the order before it was sent to Malloy for review, and the commission doesn’t expect to receive it until late this week.
Also shot down by Dems: a move by Knudson to provide staff with procedural clarity by directing compliance with the terms of the Ozaukee County judge’s order within seven days once it’s issued.
Jacobs again argued it was “cavalier” to “just out of whimsy decide on a seven-day deactivation.”
“We’re grappling with constitutional issues and eliminating people from the voting rolls. This is serious,” Jacobs said, adding the move to comply with Malloy’s order within seven days “does a great disservice to the gravity” of discussions in both the closed and open sessions.
Thomsen noted a potential appeal by the state Department of Justice could result in a stay of Malloy’s decision and said a vote on the motion at this point was “simply grandstanding.”
“We will know very shortly from DOJ as to what the appellate courts are going to do,” he said. “And as soon as we know, you’re going to have time to call, give notice and have a meeting, and then we can all make rational decisions about what needs to be done once we know what the law is.”
But Bob Spindell, who consulted with WILL on the suit ahead of being appointed to the commission in October by GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, countered it was “an outrage to have 200,000 people (that) probably should not be on the voting rolls.”
“This is really, unfortunately, a Republican-Democratic issue,” he said. “The Republicans believe we need to have clean rolls, the Democrats like to keep lots of people on the rolls.”
That sparked a back-and-forth with Thomsen, who objected strongly to the partisan characterization.
“I think most people — and I have a lot of Republican friends — think that people that are properly registered should have a right to vote, and they shouldn’t be thrown off the registration rolls because of technical errors,” he said. “And I think all of us should respect those people that are properly registered and not treat them as if they’re some piece of dirt.”
Thomsen reiterated that those who would be improperly removed from the rolls would face an “unconstitutional burden” to re-register and said the commission does not have the right to “impede someone’s right to vote if they’re properly registered.”
But Spindell fired back that “we’re not infringing on anybody’s constitutional rights,” touting the state’s same-day registration system that allows voters to register at the polls.
“It’s a very quick process,” he said. “I think to say that we’re taking away somebody’s right to vote is inaccurate.”
The state offers voter registration up to 20 days before the election and in-person voter registration on Election Day. The only requirement to register is proof of residence, which can include a driver’s license with a current address or paycheck stub. Voters can check their registration status at myvote.wi.gov.
Despite Spindell’s urging, the commission again split 3-3, and the motion failed.