Wisconsin Supreme Court refuses to purge voters from rolls
Royalbroil, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Wisconsin Supreme Court refuses to purge voters from rolls

On Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a ruling on whether the Wisconsin Elections Commission has a duty to remove voters who may have moved from the rolls, holding that it is not a duty for the commission. A Wisconsin circuit court had previously ruled that the removal of such voters was a duty of the commission before a court of appeals reversed the holding.

Writing for the majority, Justice Brian Hagedorn said that the Wisconsin Elections Commission “has no statutory obligation, and therefore no positive and plain duty” to enforce the statute at issue. Instead, the court clarified that the statute “gives this responsibility to municipal elections officials, not to the Commission.”

The complaint, originally filed in 2019, alleged that the commission had failed to carry out its duty under Wis. Stat. § 6.50(3). Under the statute, the “municipal clerk or board of election commissioners” must mail a notice to individuals when the officials receive “reliable information that a registered elector has changed his or her residence to a location outside of the municipality.” The recipients of the notices can confirm their addresses online, return the notice’s attached postcard to the municipality, or vote in the next election. The statute has a 30-day timeline for recipients to take one of these actions.

Timothy Zignego, one of three Wisconsin voters who initiated the complaint, had filed a complaint to the commission that asked the body to deactivate any voters who did not respond within 30 days from the voter rolls. The commission declined to do so.

Wisconsin conservatives have pushed for the voter rolls to be purged for nearly two years, claiming that the accuracy of the voter lists is crucial. Wisconsin liberals have claimed that the policy could remove voters who should remain on the lists.

Justice Ziegler joined Justice Bradley in a dissent where Bradley wrote, “the majority’s decision leaves the administration of Wisconsin’s election law in flux, at least with respect to ensuring the accuracy of the voter rolls.” She concluded that the Wisconsin Elections Commission “shirked its duty, flouted the circuit court’s orders without consequences, and knowingly left ineligible voters on Wisconsin’s voter rolls.”