Fasten your seatbelts, 2020 is here, and we predict it is likely to be a barn-burner festooned with all sorts of political chicanery, attack ads and half-truths — and maybe even some foreign meddling — as we march off to the polls for a bevy of elections, including a presidential one.
We didn’t need a crystal ball to make that prediction; the election flames have been fanned all fall with the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
And here in Wisconsin the partisan fires flared when an Ozaukee County judge ruled that up to 234,000 state voters — about 7 percent of the state’s registered voters — should be purged from state voter rolls immediately.
Democrats decried the ruling as a wholesale disenfranchisement that targeted college students and Democratic strongholds like Milwaukee. Republicans responded it was just keeping the voter rolls current and accurate.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even chimed in with a tweet on her political account, saying, “It’s beyond alarming that more than 200,000 registered Wisconsin voters will be prohibited from voting.”
That hyperbole earned the speaker a “Pants on Fire” rating from Wisconsin Politifact.
Those 234,000 Wisconsin voters got a mailing from the Wisconsin Election Commission in October after a check of multi-state databases partnered in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) — including the post office, the state Division of Motor Vehicles, voter registration and motor vehicle records from other states — indicated they might have moved and their listing on the state voter rolls might not be current.
Only 2,400 residents who got the letters from the state responded that they still lived at the address listed; another 16,500 had already re-registered at new addresses and 60,000 letters were returned as undeliverable.
But state election officials worried that up to 7 percent of the identified “movers” in the ERIC report might be on the mover list by mistake. and wanted to delay the “purge” or reconciliation for between 12 and 24 months while they reviewed each case — which could put it past the fall presidential election.
That triggered a lawsuit from three voters backed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), which argued that under state law the updating of the voter rolls was supposed to be done 30 days after the mailing to ERIC “movers” had been sent out, and those voters who had not responded should immediately be taken off the voter rolls.
The legal dispute is over whether the ERIC list provides “sufficient reliable information” — as the Ozaukee county judge ruled — or whether the state Elections Board can take months to make sure the information on the movers list is accurate.
Now, it’s off to the races with the state attorney general appealing the ruling, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin filing a federal lawsuit, followed by WILL asking the conservative-dominated State Supreme Court to take up the issue.
That may take weeks and might even bump up against the first election of the new year in February. We hope the courts act quickly.
But voters who fret they might, unbeknownst to them, be on the purge list — actually all voters — should take matters into their own hands and check to see if they are on the voting rolls.
It would take you all of two minutes to go online via computer or smartphone at myvote.wi.gov to check your status by filling in your full name and birth date.
If you have been flagged for the “purge” — and that could potentially include almost 7,000 voters here in Racine County.
In seconds you can update your information and add your new address if ou have moved. You can do that up to 20 days before an election if you have an up-to-date Wisconsin driver’s license or state ID card. You can even ask for an absentee ballot to be mailed to you for one or more elections.
If you would rather, you can call your municipal clerk to make sure you are in good standing and your address and polling place are current. You can register at the clerk’s office until the Friday before an election. If all else fails, Wisconsin is one of 21 states where you can register or re-register at the polls on Election Day if you have proof of residence like a driver’s license, property tax bill, current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck stub, lease or workplace ID.
Your vote is important, and it takes only a few minutes to protect it by checking online to make sure you are good to go on Election Day.
Take the time to do that, and you won’t have to pay attention to the partisan polemics and scare stories that you’re bound to hear in the coming weeks. And don’t forget to vote.
This editorial is reprinted with permission from the Racine Journal Times.