Skip to content
Search

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Fresh appeal vowed by conservatives pressing to cull Wisconsin voter rolls

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

"I think that this decision is a win not only for the voters who were close to being purged, but also for democracy," said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will be the next player in the high-stakes game of legal pingpong over the future of 209,000 names on the registration rolls.

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which has been fighting since last fall to get those people stricken from the roster of eligible voters, is asking the state's highest court this week to reverse an appeals court ruling from last week that said there should be no such removal.

The dispute is the most intense voter purge fight now underway in an undeniable presidential battleground. Donald Trump's margin of victory in the state was less than 23,000 last time — or about one-ninth the number of voters now in dispute, most of whom are identified with addresses in Democratic precincts. And Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes are central to the strategies of both parties this fall.


"Wisconsin deserves clean elections in 2020," Rick Esenberg, the president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said in announcing the appeal.

"I think that this decision is a win not only for the voters who were close to being purged, but also for democracy," said Josh Kaul, the state's Democratic attorney general.

A decision by the state Supreme Court not to get involved (it's bypassed opportunities to intervene so far) would be a decisive win for voting rights advocates. But if the justices decide to hear the case, and end up reversing the 4th District Court of Appeals to decree that the names should get dropped, the voters will put their hopes in a separate lawsuit being pressed on their behalf in federal court by the League of Women Voters.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

The dispute got started last fall after 209,000 registered voters were flagged by a computer algorithm as having changed their residences. The state Board of Elections, with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, decided unanimously that — since such computer runs in the past had mistakenly tagged thousands of voters as having moved away — any purge should be delayed until after this November's election to allow any errors to be identified without disenfranchising people.

That's when the conservative legal foundation sued, arguing state law did not give the board that sort if discretion. The law requires deactivating the registrations of people who don't respond within a month to notices saying there is reliable information they have moved out of state.

A judge in Ozaukee County, a heavily Republican suburban area north of Milwaukee, ordered the voters immediately removed. When the state board deadlocked on how to respond, he ordered them fined and held in contempt.

On Friday, three judges on the appeals court unanimously took the opposite position — essentially ruling that state law leaves it up to local elections clerks to decide when to deactivate voters, and provides no role for the state elections board.

"In interpreting the Wisconsin Statutes, courts may not rewrite the plain language of the statutes the Legislature has enacted," the judges wrote. "Acceptance of the arguments of plaintiffs would cause us to rewrite statutes enacted by the Legislature, and that we cannot do."

The decision will allow for the thousands of voters to stay on the rolls for at least the next five weeks, when Democrats will award 84 delegates in the April 7 presidential primary.

And even if a voter has their registration deactivated, they may register again, even on Election Day when they show up at the polls, assuming they have the necessary proof of identity and residency.

The initial computer run produced a list of 234,000 inactive voters, but that number has been reduced about 10 percent by people who have proven their eligibility and residency.

Read More

Blurred image of an orchestra
Melpomenem/Getty Images

The ideal democracy: An orchestra in harmony

Frazier is an assistant professor at the Crump College of Law at St. Thomas University. Starting this summer, he will serve as a Tarbell fellow.

In the symphony of our democracy, we can find a compelling analogy with an orchestra. The interplay of musicians trained in different instruments, each contributing to the grand musical tapestry, offers lessons for our democratic system. As we navigate the complexities of governance, let us draw inspiration from the orchestra's structure, dynamics and philosophy.

Keep ReadingShow less
David French

New York Times columnist David French was removed from the agenda of a faith-basd gathering because we was too "divisive."

Macmillan Publishers

Is canceling David French good for civic life?

Harwood is president and founder of The Harwood Institute. This is the latest entry in his series based on the "Enough. Time to Build.” campaign, which calls on community leaders and active citizens to step forward and build together.

On June 10-14, the Presbyterian Church in America held its annual denominational assembly in Richmond, Va. The PCA created considerable national buzz in the lead-up when it abruptly canceled a panel discussion featuring David French, the highly regarded author and New York Times columnist.

The panel carried the innocuous-sounding title, “How to Be Supportive of Your Pastor and Church Leaders in a Polarized Political Year.” The reason for canceling it? French, himself a long-time PCA member, was deemed too “divisive.” This despite being a well-known, self-identified “conservative” and PCA adherent. Ironically, the loudest and most divisive voices won the day.

Keep ReadingShow less
Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer testifies at the Democratic National Convention in 1964.

Bettmann/Getty Images

60 years later, it's time to restart the Freedom Summer

Johnson is a United Methodist pastor, the author of "Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community" and program director for the Bridge Alliance, which houses The Fulcrum.

Sixty years have passed since Freedom Summer, that pivotal season of 1964 when hundreds of young activists descended upon an unforgiving landscape, driven by a fierce determination to shatter the chains of racial oppression. As our nation teeters on the precipice of another transformative moment, the echoes of that fateful summer reverberate across the years, reminding us that freedom remains an unfinished work.

At the heart of this struggle stood Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper's daughter whose voice thundered like a prophet's in the wilderness, signaling injustice. Her story is one of unyielding defiance, of a spirit that the brutal lash of bigotry could not break. When Hamer testified before the Democratic National Convention in 1964, her words, laced with the pain of beatings and the fire of righteous indignation, laid bare the festering wound of racial terror that had long plagued our nation. Her resilience in the face of such adversity is a testament to the power of the human spirit.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kamala Harris waiving as she exits an airplane

If President Joe Biden steps aside and endorses Vice President Kamala Harris, her position could be strengthened by a ranked-choice vote among convention delegates.

Anadolu/Getty Images

How best to prepare for a brokered convention

Richie is co-founder and senior advisor of FairVote.

As the political world hangs on whether Joe Biden continues his presidential campaign, an obvious question is how the Democratic Party might pick a new nominee. Its options are limited, given the primary season is long past and the Aug. 19 convention is only weeks away. But they are worth getting right for this year and future presidential cycles.

Suppose Biden endorses Vice President Kamala Harris and asks his delegates to follow his lead. She’s vetted, has close relationships across the party, and could inherit the Biden-Harris campaign and its cash reserves without a hitch. As Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) suggested, however, Harris would benefit from a mini-primary among delegates before the convention – either concluding at the virtual roll call that is already planned or at the in-person convention.

Keep ReadingShow less