Wisconsin is one of the most fiercely contested battleground states in this election cycle, but it lacks federal transparency requirements for voter registration imposed on most states, according to a lawsuit by an election watchdog. 

Minnesota, generally a solidly blue state although it saw a razor-thin margin in the results of the 2016 presidential race, also doesn’t make its voter rolls available to the public, the lawsuit contends. 

Public Interest Legal Foundation, an election integrity advocacy organization, announced the litigation last week, alleging that the exemption of six states from a provision in the National Voter Registration Act violates the principle of equal state sovereignty. 

“No state should be exempt from transparency,” J. Christian Adams, president of Public Interest Legal Foundation, said in a written statement. “All states should be treated equally under the law and no exemption should allow certain election officials to hide documents relating to voter list maintenance activities.”

In 1993, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act, better known as the “Motor Voter Law,” which allows Americans to register to vote when they get a driver’s license. 

The federal law also requires states to update voter registration lists to ensure that dead people or those who have left a jurisdiction no longer are listed. 

For accountability, the law says that states must “make available for public inspection and, where available photocopying at a reasonable cost, all records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters.”

However, Congress carved out an exception to the transparency requirement for seven states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Maine, and Wyoming. 

The reason was that the seven states offered same-day voter registration or, in the case of North Dakota, didn’t require voter registration. 

After briefly stopping same-day voter registration, Maine lost its exemption from the disclosure provision of the federal law. 

The new complaints, filed in two federal courts, contend that the exemptions from U.S. law violate the principle of equal state sovereignty by treating the remaining states differently.

Public Interest Legal Foundation is suing Minnesota and Wisconsin first. 

“This lawsuit is the first step to bringing the National Voter Registration Act’s transparency requirements to all 50 states,” Adams said. 

The Wisconsin lawsuit names Wisconsin Election Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe as the defendant. The Minnesota litigation names Secretary of State Steve Simon as the defendant. 

A Wisconsin Election Commission spokesperson declined comment for this report, but pointed to the applicable portion of state law, which says the commission and local governments can decide the cost of obtaining voter information.

“The commission shall establish by rule the fee for obtaining a copy of the official registration list, or a portion of the list. … The amount of the fee shall be set, after consultation with county and municipal election officials,” a portion of the law says. 

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Daily Signal. 

The litigation cites the Supreme Court case of Shelby County v. Holder, in which the high court reaffirmed that all states enjoy equal sovereignty and determined that if Congress treats states differently, it must be “sufficiently related to the problem [the statute] targets” and must “make sense in light of current conditions.”

Public Interest Legal Foundation’s complaints argue that Minnesota and Wisconsin grant and remove voting rights through voter registration and maintenance of that voter list. So, they argue, Congress’ goal of making the process transparent should apply to both states. 

Thirteen of the 20 states that offer same-day voter registration are still subject to the federal transparency requirements, the litigation notes.