PORT WASHINGTON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge on Monday found the state’s bipartisan elections commission to be in contempt and ordered it to immediately begin removing up to 209,000 names from the state’s voter rolls or face fines for each day it doesn’t.
Hours later, a divided Wisconsin Supreme Court declined a request from a conservative law firm to immediately hear the case, meaning that the legal battle will now shift to a lower state appeals court and likely not be resolved before the November presidential election.
The Supreme Court’s decision not to get involved now was a win for liberals, who will now attempt to persuade a lower appeals court to put the original ruling on hold while the legal fight continues. The appeals court had refused to act while the Supreme Court was considering what to do.
The case is being closely watched, as Wisconsin is a battleground state that President Donald Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. Democrats are fighting the lawsuit, saying the purge would unfairly affect their voters. Republicans say they merely want to ensure that people who have moved are not able to vote from their old addresses.
The conservative-controlled Supreme Court deadlocked 3-3 on whether to take the case, which would have resulted in a quicker resolution. Newly elected conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn sided with two liberal justices in declining to immediately hear the case. The deadlock was possible because conservative Justice Dan Kelly, who is up for election in April, recused himself given that voters at risk of being removed would be casting ballots in his race.
By not taking the case now, “this court denies justice to the people of Wisconsin who deserve a prompt resolution of a dispute that affects important statewide and national elections this year,” the three dissenting conservative justices wrote.
They said the court was disregarding its duty by not taking the case now, especially with elections looming in a month.
“The case is unquestionably worthy of our prompt attention,” the justices wrote.
There are a number of elections coming soon, including a February primary for Kelly’s Supreme Court seat and a host of local offices, followed by the April general election which is also the presidential primary.
The commission wanted to wait until after the November 2020 presidential election before removing anyone because of inaccuracies with a previous round of data identifying voters who had potentially moved. Even if a voter has their registration deactivated, they can register again later or on Election Day when they show up at the polls, assuming they have the required documentation.