By Mrinal Gokhale
December 28, 2019
Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy ordered that about 234,000 voter registrations be deactivated for residents that moved and didn’t respond to requests to reenact their registrations. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett expressed criticism on the reliability of data that identified these voters during a press conference at Milwaukee City Hall on Friday, Dec. 20. “Nearly 35,000 of those voters would be here in the City of Milwaukee. More than one in 10 registered voters in this city would be impacted by this,” said Barrett.
He said that marginalized communities in Wisconsin may face additional barriers to vote as a result of these purges. “When voters are split as sharply as in Wisconsin, there may be an advantage for some people to face additional barriers,” he said. Wisconsin became enrolled in the Electronic Records Information Center (ERIC) a few years ago, which uses data from the DMV, Social Security, USPS and other sources to identify registered voters that have moved. The voters that are identified as “movers” then receive postcards that request that they reactivate their registration within 30 days. Barrett stated that in order to help ensure accuracy of registered voter addresses, the City of Milwaukee and all Wisconsin municipalities participate in many mandated data maintenance processes. “We have matched nearly 600 records with property owners in Milwaukee which creates doubt as to whether a person has actually moved,” he said. He believes that this ruling and law also threatens democracy. “At the end of the day, our democracy works best when people have the opportunity to vote. And we should not be making it more difficult for people to vote, particularly when we’re coming into the critical elections of 2020.”
Joining Barrett was Neil Albrecht, executive director of the Milwaukee Elections Commission. Albrecht said that there has only been a five percent response rate to the mailings. About 1,327 postcard recipients ended up registering to vote in another municipality. “That 95 percent, the state has no idea on their status, yet we’re rushing forward in inactivating that 95 percent all based on one piece of mail sent one time to a voter,” Albrecht said. Albrecht stated that he does not believe the Wisconsin Elections Commission is disputing the unreliability of data that identifies movers, nor is it known why Milwaukee is disproportionately impacted by this law. “Some may say Milwaukee and Madison are more transient cities than other state municipalities,” he said. “We don’t have an answer, and I think what is more troubling is that the state does not have an answer.”
For now, voters are encouraged to check their registration statuses. “The City of Milwaukee will do everything within our legal authority to prevent the deactivation of voters,” Albrecht said.