MacIver News Service | May 17, 2012
[Madison, Wisc...] How many of the nearly 200,000 new voters who have registered in Wisconsin since 2011 were bogus?
No one knows.
Every time a new voter registers in Wisconsin, the Government Accountability Board mails them a postcard as a way to verify their address. However, a review by the MacIver News Service revealed that nobody knows how many of those postcards are returned as undeliverable.
From the beginning of 2011 through May 6, 2012, the GAB sent out 199,000 cards to addresses provided by newly registered voters. This is technically the responsibility of municipal clerks, but the GAB decided it was easier for its office to take care of it, and has done so for years.
"We opted to send out postcards on behalf of clerks, to ensure that it was done consistently, and to take advantage of postal discounts," said Reid Magney, GAB public information officer.
However, if the post office cannot deliver those cards, they do not return to the GAB. They are instead sent to the clerks in the municipality wherein the new registrant claims to reside.
According to state law, it is the municipal clerks' responsibility to investigate and take appropriate actions from there.
The MacIver News Service contacted city clerk offices in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Wausau, La Crosse, Hudson and Racine to verify they were complying with this requirement and purging the names from the undeliverable cards off the poll lists.
While the clerks were adamant that they were complying with state law, none of those offices could say exactly how many returned cards they have processed.
Most could not even estimate how many cards are returned. An official in Milwaukee (Population: 594,833) was able to say that office "gets a few." Madison (Population: 233,209) had no idea. The City of Racine (Population: 78,860) only said it receives returned cards throughout the year.
The smallest city contacted, Hudson (Population, 12,719) , was at least able to say that three of the cards were returned after the April 2012 election. Nancy Korson, city clerk, said the cards only seem to come back after an election, and are always the result of same day registration.
Toni Rayala, Wausau city clerk, said she's seen "maybe a handful over the last month." She said it's difficult to determine if they come back before or after elections this year, due to the frequency of elections recently.
The standard practice among all the cities contacted, apparently, is once a card is returned, the office will check to make sure it was properly addressed according to their records.
If the address is correct, but the card was undeliverable, the voter is supposed to be inactivated. The office will then check with the post office for the voter's current address and attempt to contact them.
Once we discovered local clerks were not keeping track of the number of bogus addresses on new registrations, we asked the GAB for comment.
They have not responded to our request. We will update this story if and when they do.