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Investigator identifies potential flaws in WI voter purge list

Posted at 6:43 PM, Sep 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-30 20:02:17-04

MILWAUKEE — As the Wisconsin Supreme Court decides on whether tens of thousands of voters will have their eligibility removed, one man says one of every four people shouldn’t be on that list.

“The list, as proposed, is so wrong,” Greg Palast, an investigative journalist said. “They really got to junk it and start again.”

Palast commissioned a study which he believes shows this effort is purposely targeting communities of color. In total, he says 39,722 of the 153,779 people (25.8 percent) possibly being eliminated are there incorrectly.

According to his research, the voters in Milwaukee County eligible to be purged are in predominantly Black and low-income neighborhoods. He says this shows the group trying to have these people removed are targeting by race. It's something the I-Team investigated back in February.

The PEW Research Center shows 91 percent of African Americans voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the Poor People’s Campaign suggests 460,000 low-income Wisconsin residents did not vote in 2016. The presumption being, low-income voters tend to vote Democrat as well.

“It has kind of a Jim Crow effect,” Palast said. “It’s not fair. People haven’t moved.”

"This suppression is real,” Pastor Greg Lewis, Executive Director of Souls to the Polls said. “That’s very intentional. This isn’t checkers, it’s chess. Everything is strategic.”

Through Souls to the Polls, Lewis advocates for people of color to register and get out to vote. The conservative advocacy group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) has brought a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission to have these voters thrown out. It has been appealed all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It’s very likely these voters will not be impacted for the November election, but Lewis believes this will make it harder for African Americans to vote in the future.

“These communities are more likely to vote Democratic,” Lewis said. “They put these issues in our community and have people believing, it’s not worth the time to go out and vote. They discourage people from voting. That’s blatant voter suppression. It’s blatant disenfranchisement.”

"I don’t think it’s voter suppression at all,” Rick Esenberg, President of WILL said. “State law requires voter rolls be brought up to date by removing outdated records of voters who have moved.”

Esenberg admits, the list is likely not 100 percent accurate. He says, it’s more like 95 to 98 percent accurate which could mean roughly 6,000 to 10,000 voters could be on it incorrectly. But he says this is a necessary thing to do to ensure safe elections. He attributes those incorrectly put on the list to anomalies in how people register for their vehicles. He says, the Wisconsin Elections Commission tells them these inaccuracies are due to vehicles being registered to a place of business, a vacation home, for students who are at college. Because of that, he believes the list is not targeting Black or low-income residents.

“The problem is, our voter rolls are notoriously inaccurate,” Esenberg said. " We have millions of people across the country registered to vote at a particular address and they no longer live there. It’s important having safeguards observed, including having the most accurate voter roll possible.”

Esenberg questions the accuracy of Palast’s study, calling them inconsistent with the Wisconsin Election Commission. He also says, Palast did not bring them before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

“It is incumbent for him to come forward a lot earlier than he did, rather than the day before the court heard the case,” Esenberg said. “This is what I think is a blatant and amateurish and ineffective effort to influence the court.”

Palast claims he hired experts in “Advanced Address List Hygiene.” In essence, they are experts who work for companies, like Home Depot, to determine if the mailers they send out are going to the correct addresses. He also worked with the United States Postal Service to come up with this data.

TMJ4 News could not independently verify Palast's claims. We checked a small handful of seven of about 30 names Palast provided.

In one, a neighbor says the person had moved. Another, the home was being renovated and the contractor says the person, in fact, had moved. The third, a former home to help rehabilitate people, the current resident says the person moved. Three others were in the vicinity of UW-Milwaukee and a Facebook search shows they had graduated. The last one, there was no answer.

But Palast says that can be attributed to another 58,404 voters, or 38 percent of the potential purge, moving within the same county. He suggests, they should not be eliminated from the voter roll because they would be voting in the same district. He says they are confident, no less than 98,126 voters on the list, or 63.8 percent, are incorrectly being threatened by removal.

"Experts in industry, the post office itself, they went through every name, name by name,” Palast said. “This is not a sampling or something like that. Went through every name and used 240 data feeds to find out exactly where people live. That’s why we’re able to figure out, just short of 40,000 people who supposedly moved, didn’t. We know for sure.”


While no Wisconsin voters will likely be removed from the polls before the November General Election, they have been urged to check their registration status before they vote.

  • Check your voter registration or register to vote online: Click here
  • Update your name or address on existing voter registration: Click here
  • What documents count as "proof of residence" for voter registration? Click here
  • Where is my polling place? Click here
  • What is on my ballot? Click here

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