Appeals Court backs conservative activist on access to ineligible voter records

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MADISON – A conservative activist who has filed a raft of lawsuits challenging aspects of the 2020 election gained a win on Wednesday in a case seeking guardianship records in an effort to root out ineligible voters.

Ron Heuer and the Wisconsin Voters Alliance filed lawsuits in 13 counties last year to obtain records of people placed under guardianship to check them against the statewide voter registration list. In a 2-1 decision issued Wednesday, a three-judge panel from the 2nd District Court of Appeals overturned a Walworth County Circuit Court order dismissing their case against Walworth County Register in Probate Kristina Secord.

At issue in the lawsuit is the balance between protecting the right to privacy for individuals who have been declared ineligible to vote based on incompetency and preventing valid votes from being canceled or diluted by ineligible votes.

In the lawsuit, Heuer and WVA alleged the number of “ineligible voters” listed on the Wisconsin Elections Commission's public website was inconsistent with counties' tallies from voting wards.

"Every citizen of this state has the right to discern where this error (intentional or not) lies because left unaddressed, it risks each citizen’s right to have his or her vote counted in the course of a fair election," wrote Judge Maria Lazar in a decision joined by Judge Shelley Grogan. Judge Lisa Neubauer dissented.

Appeals Court Judge Maria Lazar
Appeals Court Judge Maria Lazar

The court ruled that "if the voter ineligibility determination is, in fact, pertinent to the finding of incompetency, WVA has not only demonstrated a need for this information but has demonstrated that it is entitled to the requested Notices (in full or redacted form) pursuant to the Public Records Law."

The decision stipulated that neither WVA nor any member of the public should be given guardianship case numbers or individuals' birthdates, and left room for the circuit court to require additional redactions for privacy purposes.

In her dissent, Neubauer wrote that "the majority’s disregard for well-established precedent and the plain language of (the state's public records law) exempting legislative designations of confidential or otherwise exempt records, amounts to and invites unchecked judicial activism."

"The consequences of the majority’s analysis, which enables one circuit court or two appellate judges to engage in public policy analysis and override statutory exceptions for confidential, privileged, or otherwise exempt records cannot be overstated," Neubauer wrote.

Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer
Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer

Efforts by Heuer and WVA to obtain similar information in other counties remain underway.

Heuer was previously hired by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman as an investigator in a fruitless, taxpayer-funded review of the 2020 election. At that time, WVA had filed three lawsuits over aspects of the election — two of which sought to overturn the results. Heuer also drew attention for social media posts that invoked racist tropes and conspiracy theories.

The appeals court's decision comes as lawmakers are considering changes to state statutes to ensure clerks and the voters are notified when a court declares a voter incompetent, which means they are unable to understand the election process or are under guardianship.

Authors of the proposal cited a review in Dane County that found 100 people voted in elections despite being declared incompetent, possibly without knowing.

Under the proposed change, circuit courts would notify the Wisconsin Elections Commission when a voter is found incompetent and ineligible to vote. Within two days, WEC must mark the voter's registration status as inactive and notify the voter and their local clerk of the change. The commission must also notify voters if the court restores the right to vote.

That provision is included in a standalone bill led by Republicans, which also requires nursing homes to contact a resident's family members of the dates and times that special voting deputies will visit and facilitate absentee voting.

While that bill may not be signed into law, the incompetency piece is included in another bill that would allow clerks to process absentee ballots a day early. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has said he will sign the current version of the bill.

That bill also includes minor changes to the original proposal, including a three-day notification window and a requirement that WEC must tell voters to re-register if their rights are restored.

Jessie Opoien can be reached at Hope Karnopp can be reached at

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin court backs activist on access to ineligible voter records