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Judge Orders Massive Purge Of Wisconsin Voter Rolls


A judge has ordered Wisconsin to take about 234,000 registered voters off the rolls because those people may have moved. Now, President Trump won Wisconsin by about 23,000 votes, so taking 10 times that many people off the rolls could have a big impact. And Democrats are especially worried.

Ben Wikler is chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and joins us from Madison. Hi, there.

BEN WIKLER: Hey. Thanks so much for having me on.

SHAPIRO: Before we get to your strategy here, what's your best guess as to how many of these 234,000 voters are Democrats?

WIKLER: The thing we know is that these kinds of purges disproportionately affect young people and people of color. And those are folks who are more likely to be Democrats. So this is a purge that is motivated by partisan interests. It's intended to knock more Democrats than Republicans off the rolls. And it's a cause for us to organize to make sure those folks get reregistered and vote.

SHAPIRO: Some of those young people are college students who move around. And if they were still registered at the place where they went to college and are now living in a different place, doesn't it make sense that they should be registered someplace else?

WIKLER: Yeah. I mean, most of the people who are purged are people who've moved. It's just that there are thousands of them who should not have been purged. And the reason why the right-wing group brought this lawsuit is that the elections commission had concerns that the data that they were using was unreliable and inaccurate. Those concerns really go to the heart of how democracies are supposed to work. People shouldn't be kicked off the voting rolls for doing nothing at all wrong.

SHAPIRO: But the judge has ruled, and now you have 11 months until Election Day. So what is your strategy for getting people reenrolled between now and November?

WIKLER: So the first thing we do is we get a list of the folks that were purged, and we start texting and calling and reaching out to them to make sure that they know that they have been deregistered. This will come as a surprise and a shock to a lot of them. And frankly, people get angry when they find that they've been kicked off the voting rolls.

So our plan is to make sure these folks hear from us early and often. And we can see whether this works because we have an election on April 7 for our Supreme Court. We want all these folks to same-day register, if need be, vote on April 7 and then be part of our program going into the fall of 2020.

SHAPIRO: As you point out, Wisconsin has same-day registration. So if somebody shows up to the polls and they find out that they were unaware they had been kicked off, they can just register that day. So doesn't that solve the problem?

WIKLER: Most people don't carry utility bills around with them in their daily lives. There's a higher burden to proving your place of residence when you same-day register than there is from simply showing up and casting your ballot.

So there's more organizing work that needs to be done. It's not a cause for panic. It's a cause for planning. And it's something we can overcome. But it just creates another bump in the road for people who just want to cast their ballot and exercise their franchise. It's not something that should be happening.

SHAPIRO: The judge has said this has to begin right away. There are also appeals happening. What is your understanding of how this is going to go forward? And are you going to act as though the case has reached a final decision, even knowing that it could be overturned on appeal?

WIKLER: Knowing that Republicans and Republican-allied groups are trying to knock voters off the rolls just lights a fire under us to make sure we talk to anyone who is not registered now or could be at risk of being purged and make sure that they know exactly how to vote, how to same-day register and have a plan to get to the polls. We're wasting no time. This is an organizing initiative that started the moment the initial ruling came out from the Ozaukee County judge.

SHAPIRO: So people should get ready for a lot of perhaps annoying text messages from the state Democratic Party.

WIKLER: I think people love getting text messages from the Democratic Party.


SHAPIRO: Spoken like a true party operative.

Ben Wikler is chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Thank you for joining us.

WIKLER: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.