Conservative firm sues WEC’s Meagan Wolfe for access to Wisconsin voter list

By: Rich Kremer

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, or PILF, is asking a federal judge to declare that Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Megan Wolfe violated the federal National Voter Registration Act, or NVRA, because WEC charges for its voter registration list and does not include voters’ dates of birth.

The NVRA was created by Congress in 1993 and requires states to make voter registration lists available for public inspection. Wisconsin and five other states are exempt from the act because they either didn’t have voter registration requirements or, like the Badger State, had same-day registration when the act was signed into law. 

Wisconsin’s voter rolls and public access to them are governed instead by state law and overseen by the Elections Commission. The agency’s Badger Votes portal allows anyone to purchase voter registration lists for a fee ranging from $25 up to a cap of $12,500. The data does not include voters’ date of birth, driver license information or social security numbers.

The lawsuit wants Wisconsin’s exemption to the federal law invalidated in light of a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found part of the federal Voting Rights Act unconstitutional and “reaffirmed ‘the principle that all States enjoy equal sovereignty.’” They’re also challenging Wisconsin’s $12,500 fee and asking the court to order WEC to provide the state’s voter-registration list with voters’ years of birth.

Public Interest legal Foundation President J. Christian Adams, who was a member of Trump’s voter fraud commission in 2017, told WPR the Supreme Court ruling and other court decisions have laid the foundation for their current challenge.

“We believe transparency should apply in all 50 states, not just 44,” Adams said. “Wisconsin and Minnesota have an exemption from transparency obligations because of things they did 30 years ago or more, that are no longer relevant to current circumstances. And that disclosure of public information is a good thing. We all should be in favor.” 

“And we can have fewer outlandish claims when states are transparent with their records,” Adams said. 

Debra Cronmiller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, told WPR Wisconsin has a process for obtaining voter-registration lists that “is what it is, because the rules are what the rules are.”

She said there could be potential upsides to Wisconsin being part of the NVRA because it requires states to register recipients of federal public benefits to vote. But Cronmiller said there have been attempts to use voter data to suppress votes.

“In the hands of the wrong people, maybe they use the data or information that they are able to publicly get in a way that is not actually promoting voting and the integrity of our elections, but might be trying to undermine it,” Cronmiller said.

Attorney David Fox, with the Democratic firm Elias Law Group, said PILF was part of a growing push by conservatives using the NVRA to “undertake hasty, rushed voter purges.” He said because Wisconsin isn’t part of the federal act, “this seems to be part of a strategy to broaden the number of states in which they can bring those kinds of claims.” 

“What they’re asking for is low cost access to complete detailed voter data, including the date of birth information, which they say openly that they want to use to scrutinize Wisconsin’s voter rolls,” Fox said.

Public Interest Legal Foundation