Wisconsin voter purge isn't fast enough, conservative suit says
A conservative group has sued in an effort to accelerate and even intensify a culling of Wisconsin's voter lists before the next election.
The typical narrative about proposed voter purges is that civil rights and progressive groups go to court to slow them down or stop them altogether. This week, the right-leaning Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty did the reverse — filing a lawsuit in state court arguing the state Elections Commission broke the law when it decided to wait until 2021 before deactivating as many as 234,000 voters who appear to have moved or left the state.
The outcome of the litigation could influence what's shaping up to be another close presidential contest in one of the nation's new battlegrounds. President Trump carried Wisconsin by just 23,000 votes in 2016 and is counting on its 10 electoral votes next year, too, but the Democrats are intent on winning the state for what would be the eighth time in nine elections.
The elections panel, with three members from each party, says it has the authority to delay the deactivation of voters beyond what one state law says is a 30-day deadline, because another law allows the commission to create rules for maintaining registration lists.
Two years ago, the commission sent more than 341,000 letters to voters it had identified as having maybe moved — and 98 percent were dropped from the rolls when their letters were not answered or could not be delivered. The panel said it received a flood of calls from people who were then mistakenly turned away from voting in the 2018 midterm election primaries.
The imbroglio prompted the commission to change the way it maintains the state's roster of 3.3 million registered voters — including extending the response time for movers to as long as two years.
Under this new rule, people suspected of moving could still vote in the April primaries and next November's election. The lawsuit says they should be purged immediately and required to register all over again.
Democrats are concerned this would force more of their voters than Republicans' to re-register. While Wisconsin does not track registration by party affiliation, four of the five municipalities with the highest number of movers — Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire and La Crosse — backed Hillary Clinton in 2016.
But the plaintiffs say requiring people to register anew is not an onerous burden as the state allows people to register and cast ballots on Election Day.
In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.