Voter List Integrity

Voter List Integrity

[Updated with information about list maintenance in November and December, 2017.]

The controversy over the President’s Election Integrity Commission and its request that states provide detailed information about voters may have piqued your curiosity about the steps Wisconsin takes to keep its voter rolls accurate.

Many of our members know how voters get into the WisVote database. But how does Wisconsin deactivate the records of voters who die, move away, or become ineligible to vote because they are adjudicated as felons or mentally incompetent? The Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC, the authority that replaced the Government Accountability Board or GAB) receives regular reports from the Department of Health Services (DHS) about people who die in Wisconsin. These lists are checked against the WisVote database and matches are flagged for the local clerk to deactivate. Likewise, the Department of Corrections provides regular reports about citizens who are adjudicated as felons and have not completed their sentence (incarceration, parole, and probation). Voters who change their address within Wisconsin have their existing record updated. Other states provide notification that former Wisconsin residents have registered to vote in their state, whenever the voter provides a prior Wisconsin address on their new registration.

In addition, every two years, in the spring following each federal election (after all clerks have entered their voting data from the fall election), WEC sends a return postcard to every registered Wisconsin voter who has not voted in the last four years. If the voter does not return the postcard, affirming the desire to remain an active voter, or if a postcard is returned as undeliverable, the voter record is deactivated in the database.

The WEC completed its 2016 list maintenance in August. Here are a few statistics: They mailed 381,495 postcards statewide, which resulted in 351,733 voters having their status changed to inactive. Zeroing in on our area, 42,599 notices were sent to Dane County voters, including 26,614 City of Madison voters. WEC deactivated 40,899 Dane County voters, of which 26,129 were from the City of Madison.

But wait—there’s more! As part of this year’s move to online voter registration, Wisconsin joined a consortium of states (now at 20 plus the District of Columbia) belonging to ERIC, the Electronic Registration Information Center. Funded largely by the Pew Trust and fees from member states, ERIC uses sophisticated encryption methods to securely compare voter registration data from member states to postal change-of-address information, Social Security death records, and to each other. By matching voter records to national death records (not just Wisconsin DHS records) and US postal records, and using more sophisticated data matching software to detect potential duplicate records, ERIC can help Wisconsin do even more to maintain accurate voter lists.

In September, WEC began developing the technology required to import ERIC death and duplicate matches into WisVote, flagging them for clerks to process appropriately (deactivate as deceased, or merge duplicate records). The project should be completed by the end of 2017. Because ERIC provides monthly reports, Wisconsin will have the option to perform maintenance on an ongoing basis. Presumably, this will reduce the number of voters in WisVote who have not voted in the last four years, simplifying the list maintenance performed after federal elections.

WEC staff is now preparing for the next phase of participation in ERIC: contacting voters who ERIC has flagged as having potentially moved. Approximately 282,448 voters have been identified by ERIC as having moved within Wisconsin, and 59,292 voters have been flagged as having moved out of state.

Between November 6 and 11, WEC staff will be mailing a postcard to these voters to confirm whether they have moved:

  • Voters who are flagged as having moved within Wisconsin will be encouraged to re-register online. They will also be provided with a tear-off continuation card they can return to their municipal clerk if they want to continue their registration at their WisVote address.
  • Voters who are flagged as having moved out of state will be reminded that they can only vote in one state, and will need to either register in their new state or return the continuation card if they want to stay registered in Wisconsin.
Front and back of sample tear-off postcard to a voter who has moved.

Front and back of sample tear-off postcard to a voter who has moved.

Receiving an ERIC postcard does not automatically mean that voters must register at their new address. Voters may wish to continue their registration at their current address if they are temporarily away from their address or intend to return.

Any voters who do not register at their new address and do not return the continuation card within 30 days (by December 15th) will be deactivated in WisVote. Clerks are expected to update all their voter registrations by December 22, 2017.

For more information, read the Wisconsin Election Commission’s statement on election integrity, their report on voter list maintenance, their memo on ERIC list maintenance for voters who have moved, and visit ERIC’s website.