Wisconsin appeals court puts voter rolls purge on hold
County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy listens to
attorneys from both sides Monday, Jan. 13, 2020
before making his finding at the Ozaukee County
Courthouse in Port Washington, Wis., where Judge
Malloy held state election officials in contempt of
court for not following his order to remove
thousands of people from the voters rolls.
MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin
appeals court on Tuesday put on hold an order to
immediately remove up to 209,000 names from the state's
voter registration rolls, handing Democrats who had
fought the move a victory in the battleground state.
The appeals court sided with the bipartisan state
elections commission in putting the brakes on removing
any voters while the court fight continues. It also put
on hold a ruling from Monday in which a judge found the
commission and its three Democratic members in contempt
for not proceeding with removing the voters.
The orders came as the commission was meeting in a
closed session with attorneys from the state Department
of Justice to discuss the case.
A conservative law firm that brought the case — the
Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty — had wanted the
purge to happen immediately, even though the elections
commission raised concerns about the accuracy of data
used to identify voters who would have their
The law firm's president, Rick Esenberg, didn't directly
address the court's order in a statement.
“What is true yesterday is true today," he said. "The
Wisconsin Elections Commission isn’t following state law
and we look forward to making that case in the Court of
The case is being closely watched, as Wisconsin is among
a group of swing states being targeted by both Democrats
and President Donald Trump this year. Trump narrowly won
Wisconsin in 2016 by fewer than 23,000 votes, putting
even more of a focus on every voter in the state.
Trump was back in the state on Tuesday night for a rally
in Milwaukee, kicking off what is expected to be an
intense fight to win Wisconsin.
The voter purge lawsuit was brought by the Wisconsin
Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm.
It argued that the state elections commission broke the
law when it did not remove voters from the rolls who did
not respond within 30 days to a mailing in October
indicating they may have moved.
The commission wanted to wait until after the November
2020 presidential election before removing anyone
because of inaccuracies found while previously
attempting to identify voters who may have 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
Because voters who moved were concentrated in more
Democratic parts of the state, liberals argued that the
lawsuit was meant to lower turnout on their side.
Republicans countered that it was about reducing the
likelihood of voter fraud and making sure that people
who have moved are not able to vote from their previous
A judge last month sided with conservatives and ordered
the removal of the voters. When the bipartisan elections
commission deadlocked on proceeding with the purge, the
judge on Monday found it and its three Democratic
commissioners in contempt, and again ordered the voters'
Hours later, a divided Wisconsin Supreme Court declined
to take the case. That shifted the fight back to the
appeals court, which sided with the elections commission
on Tuesday and put the judge's original ruling on hold.
A three-judge panel in the 4th District of the appeals
court — Michael Fitzpatrick, JoAnne Kloppenburg and
Jennifer Nashold — issued the ruling. They said they
would have a follow-up order later that explains their
reasoning, but that they wanted to act quickly given the
contempt order and the commission's meeting.
Nashold was elected to the court last year after running
unopposed. Fitzpatrick also ran unopposed and was first
elected in 2017. Kloppenburg has been on the appeals
court since 2012 and also ran unsuccessfully twice for
the state Supreme Court with Democratic support.
The decision effectively hits the pause button on the
fast-moving case and means there will be no immediate
change to the state's voter registration rolls. There
are a number of elections coming soon, including a
February primary for a state Supreme Court seat, a
primary in the special election to fill the 7th
Congressional District seat and races for a host of
local offices. Wisconsin's presidential primary is on
The issue is unlikely to be resolved in court before the
presidential election. The League of Women Voters of
Wisconsin also filed a federal lawsuit to stop the
Kelly outraises opponents in
Wisconsin Supreme Court race
MADISON, Wis. — Conservative
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly's campaign
raised more than half-a-million dollars over the last
half of 2019, easily outpacing his two liberal-leaning
The candidates had a Wednesday deadline to submit
campaign finance reports covering activity over the last
six months to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The
reports are important because they can show which
candidates are resonating with voters and who has the
most money to bolster their campaigns.
Kelly's campaign manager, Charles Nichols, said Kelly's
reports will show he raised $556,180 over the period.
That brings his fundraising total for all of 2019 to
about $800,000. He finished the year with $572,970 in
Those numbers easily eclipsed opponents Jill Karofsky
and Ed Fallone's totals.
Karofsky's campaign said Tuesday that she raised about
$227,500 over the period, bringing her yearly take to
about $348,600. She finished the year with $181,270 in
Fallone released figures Wednesday that show he raised
$77,300 over the last half of the year, bringing his
yearly total to $150,700. He had $42,220 on hand.
Kelly, Karofsky and Fallone will face each other in a
three-way primary on Feb. 18. The top two vote-getters
will advance to the April 7 general election.
State Supreme Court races are officially nonpartisan,
but Republicans are backing Kelly and Democrats support
Karofsky and Fallone. President Donald Trump endorsed
Kelly during a rally in Milwaukee on Tuesday, urging
people to vote for him because he'll defend “the rule of
law in Wisconsin.”
Karofsky's campaign tweeted in response to Trump's
endorsement that Karofsky will stand up to corruption
and Republicans can't handle that.
Fallone's campaign manager, Chelsea Cross, didn't
immediately respond to an email Wednesday seeking
comment on the endorsement.
Wisconsin choice schools win
lawsuit over virtual learning
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin's education
department said Wednesday that it will change its policy
and allow private schools to count online classes toward
instructional time, just as public schools can do, after
a judge ruled that treating them differently was
The ruling Tuesday by Waukesha County Circuit Judge
Michael Bohren was a win for School Choice Wisconsin
Action, a group that includes private schools in the
state's choice program and advocates for them.
The lawsuit filed last year alleged that the Wisconsin
Department of Public Instruction was wrong to allow
public schools, but not choice schools, to count online
learning hours toward the minimum number of
instructional hours required each year.
In an email sent in February 2019 to attorneys for
choice schools, the department's attorney said state law
would have to be changed to give the department the
authority to count online classes at choice schools.
But after the judge's ruling, the education department
said in a statement it would be changing its policy.
“Prior to this lawsuit, the (education department)
believed the law did not authorize choice schools to
utilize virtual instruction,” the agency said in a
statement. “Now that the court has determined it does,
we will comply with the ruling.”
The judge ruled that the education department can't
legally justify treating choice and public schools
differently when it comes to counting online classes.
Bohren said in his order that not treating choice and
public schools the same on this issue violates
constitutional equal rights of choice schools.
“There is not a legitimate government interest in
denying choice schools the opportunity to use ‘virtual
learning’ as public schools do,” the judge wrote in his
ruling. “The denial is harmful to the choice schools and
Libby Sobic, director of education policy at the
Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty law firm that
represented the choice schools, hailed the ruling.
“For too long, (the education department) has been
unfair in their treatment of private schools in
Wisconsin’s choice programs, and today’s decision
affirms that when they break the law, they will be held
accountable,” she said in a statement.
Public and choice schools must provide 1,050 hours of
"direct pupil instruction" in any given year for
students in grades 1 through 6. The requirement is 1,137
hours for grades 7 through 12. That becomes a challenge
for districts in years when many schools closed due to
snow and cold weather.
Schools looking to get creative in making up the lost
hours turned toward offering instruction over the
internet. Last year, in the face of many snow days,
various private schools in the choice program asked the
education department if they could offer online classes
to satisfy the hourly instructional requirement.
The department denied the request. But it had no legal
authority to do that and there is no harm in allowing
choice schools to count online classes, the judge said.
Not allowing it “removes a legitimate teaching technique
from the choice schools, available to the public
schools,” Bohren said.
Q&A: What is happening with
Wisconsin's voter purge?
MADISON, Wis. — The ongoing fight over
whether 209,000 people in Wisconsin should be removed
from voter registration rolls has pit liberals against
conservatives in the closely divided battleground state.
President Donald Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016
and it is expected to be one of a handful of swing
states that will decide the this year's election. That's
heightened attention on the fight over the voters who
face being kicked off the rolls before November.
Here is a closer look at what's going on:
WHO ARE THE VOTERS WE ARE TALKING ABOUT?
The Wisconsin Elections Commission identified about
232,000 people who were flagged as possibly having
moved, based on a review of official documents such as
Wisconsin motor vehicle records, out-of-state voter
registration and motor vehicle records, and a change of
address database maintained by the U.S. Postal Service.
Those people were sent a mailing in October saying they
should have re-registered to vote if they had moved
since they had last voted. If they hadn't re-registered,
they were told to contact the elections commission. They
were not told that they faced deactivation by doing
SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty
filed a lawsuit arguing that state law required anyone
who didn't respond to the mailing within 30 days to have
their voter registration deactivated. The elections
commission didn't want to take any action until next
year because of concerns that some people who received
the mailing had not moved and could be deactivated
anyway. The commission was worried about moving too fast
because in 2017, people were deactivated who had not
WHY IS THIS A PARTISAN FIGHT?
Voters do not register by political party in Wisconsin,
so it's impossible to know how many of the targeted
voters are Republicans or Democrats. But more people in
Democratic strongholds than Republican areas received
the mailing, fueling concerns from liberals that the
case was about suppressing their votes. Republicans
argue that it's about ensuring voter rolls are clear of
people who may have moved and should not be registered
at their old address.
WERE THE VOTERS PURGED FROM THE ROLLS?
No. A judge ordered them to be deactivated, but an
appeals court on Tuesday put that ruling on hold.
Because the state Supreme Court refused to take the case
away from the appeals court, it likely will be months
before the case winds its way through the court system
and there's a final decision. That means it's unlikely
that any of the 200,000-plus voters will be taken off
the rolls before the presidential election.
WHAT ABOUT THE ELECTIONS COMMISSION? IS IT
Sort of, but not really. The commission consists of
three Republicans and three Democrats. They split along
party lines over whether to proceed with removing the
voters following the first court order to do so. Because
they didn't take action, a judge on Monday found the
three Democrats who voted against the purge to be in
contempt. But that ruling got put on hold by the appeals
court less than a day later.
The lawsuits will continue. But while they do, no voters
will be deactivated. And even if they are at some future
date, voters in Wisconsin can always register at the
polls on Election Day. That has been one of the
arguments that Republicans point to when arguing that
deactivating the voters now doesn't really harm them
because they can always register again, even when they
show up to vote.
OKs public relations push on Wisconsin elections
MADISON — State elections
officials voted Tuesday to hire an advertising firm to
develop a public relations campaign reassuring voters that
Wisconsin elections are secure and to provide information
about how elections work.
The Wisconsin Elections
Commission voted 4-2 to spend $260,000 to hire
Madison-based KW2 to develop the campaign. The money will
come from interest earned on a $7 million federal grant
the state received in 2018 to bolster election security.
commissioners — Dean Knudson and Bob Spindell —
objected to spending the money on the campaign and voted
against it. But Meagan Wolfe, the director of the
commission, cast spending money on the campaign as en
election security issue.
“This is one of the most
important things we can do to protect elections in
2020," she said. “We're making sure facts have a
fighting chance in a sea of misinformation."
In 2016, the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security said "Russian
government cyber actors" tried unsuccessfully to gain
access to a Wisconsin state government website as they
looked for vulnerabilities. Federal and state officials
have said Wisconsin's elections systems were not
The commission approved the
new public relations campaign after KW2 presented it with
a survey of Wisconsin residents conducted this past fall
that showed 70% of respondents said they were worried
about one or more perceived threats to election security.
KW2 has recommended two
additional phases of public outreach, including digital
ads, that could cost up to $630,000. The commission
decided to hold off on approving any additional spending
until after they can evaluate the initial campaign's
effectiveness during the spring elections.
The commission on Tuesday
also voted to accept another federal election security
grant, this one worth $7.8 million. The commission has to
provide a $1.6 million match to obtain the grant, however.
hopeful Karofsky raises $227K in second half of 2019
MADISON — Wisconsin Supreme
Court hopeful Jill Karofsky raised about $227,500 over the
last six months of 2019, campaign finance reports her
campaign released Tuesday show.
fund-raising activity over the last half of the year are
due to the Wisconsin Elections Commission on Wednesday.
The liberal-leaning Karofsky's campaign released figures
Tuesday that show she raised $227,552 over that period,
bringing her fund-raising total for 2019 to $348,600. Her
totals included a $15,000 loan she gave her campaign.
She spent $167,328 over the
course of the year and had $181,274 in the bank as of Dec.
liberal-leaning Ed Fallone are trying to unseat
conservative incumbent Justice Dan Kelly. All three will
face off in the Feb. 18 primary, with the top two
vote-getters advancing to the April 7 general election.
Officials with Fallone and
Kelly's campaigns didn't immediately respond to emails
Tuesday requesting their fund-raising totals.