WI Ensnared in 2020 Voter-Purge Debate

Jan 21, 2020

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MADISON, Wis. - The legal wrangling continues over whether 200,000 Wisconsin voters should be removed from registration rolls - as one political expert says it's reasonable to lump it in with other claims of voter suppression.

An appeals court halted an earlier ruling to purge the registered voters. A conservative group had argued to remove the names of people who didn't respond to mailings sent last fall about changes of address.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Political Science Professor David Canon says that form of record keeping is routine - but the urgency placed on the 2020 vote has made it political. "It only becomes more partisan if the timing is done in a way to try to have a big purge of voters shortly before an election," says Canon. Otherwise, Canon says,  keeping up-to-date records of voter registration databases is standard practice.

Wisconsin is once again being viewed as a key battleground state in the presidential election. In 2016, President Donald Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes. Canon says while the voter purge attempt isn't as egregious as other forms of voter suppression, it still can be viewed as a deterrent. Wisconsin allows in-person registration on Election Day, but Canon doubts that would help someone affected by this situation. "That would give potential relief to the voter who shows up at the polls and has been removed from the rolls who shouldn't have been, because they didn't move," says Canon. "But chances are pretty good - or I would say, like, it's almost a certainty - that your typical voter's not going to go to the polls with the documentation they need to be able to re-register."

And Canon says it's doubtful that a person in that predicament would run home to get the documentation needed to re-register and cast their ballot. Political and legal observers say the matter probably won't be resolved before the election, meaning the names in question will likely stay registered until then.