MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin appeals court on Wednesday denied a request from the state Justice Department to immediately put on hold a judge's ruling to purge more than 200,000 voter registrations in the key swing state before it hears from the other side.
The state appeals court said it wanted to give the conservative law firm that brought the lawsuit time to respond before ruling on the request to put Ozaukee County Circuit Court Judge Paul Malloy's decision on hold. The court gave the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty until 9 a.m. Monday to respond.
The state did not justify the court ruling without hearing from the other side, but it did successfully argue the issue should be expedited, the three-judge panel wrote.
Both sides are moving quickly in the lawsuit that's drawn national attention because of Wisconsin's importance in the presidential race. President Donald Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 and it's expected to be close again next year, amplifying the fight over every vote.
A judge on Friday sided with conservatives in saying the state elections commission needed to deactivate voters who didn't respond within 30 days to a mailing indicating if they have moved. The affected voters come from more heavily Democratic parts of the state. Democrats fear forcing them to re-register creates a burden and could negatively affect turnout in the 2020 presidential election. Republicans argue that removing the voters ensures the rolls are not full of people who shouldn't be voting.
The elections commission decided to wait longer than 30 days to deactivate voters because of problems in 2017 after about 343,000 voters were flagged as potential movers. More than 300,000 people who did not respond were deactivated, leading to confusion, anger and complaints. Wisconsin allows same-day voter registration, but it requires photo ID and proof of address.
The Justice Department on Tuesday filed the request that the ruling be immediately put on hold, without any time for the other side to respond. If the ruling is not put on hold, the elections commission may have to remove the voters even as the legal fight continues.
Removing voters now, before the case is settled, would create confusion, the Justice Department argued. Not changing anyone's voter registration status while the case proceeds would simply maintain the status quo, the department said.
Rick Esenberg, president of the group suing to deactivate the voters, said he was pleased the appeals court would not issue a ruling until he had time to respond. Justice Department spokeswoman Gillian Drummond declined to comment.
In addition to the state court lawsuit, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday seeking to immediately stop the deactivation of voters.
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