Wisconsin Statewide Voter List a Mess

MacIver News Service | June 15, 2012

[Madison, Wisc..] You might want to think twice before shelling out $12,500 for the Wisconsin statewide voter record list, as some political operations learned during the recall campaign and a MacIver News Service investigation reveals.

The Government Accountability Board maintains the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS), but it does not enter in the data. That is done by local clerks, and not every municipality uses the system.

The Greater Wisconsin Committee, a liberal SuperPAC, sent mailings containing the voting records of people’s neighbors, hoping to encourage get out the vote efforts. GWC got the data from the SVRS. As a result of those mailings, the GAB received numerous complaints about the mailings containing inaccurate information.

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Concurrently, the MacIver News Service requested records of the 26th Senate District from the SVRS, and discovered countless data entry errors and examples of inconsistent record keeping.

A cursory examination immediately revealed dozens, if not hundreds, of these entries are duplicates.

Also, application and effective dates contain so many errors as to question the accuracy of every single record on the list. For example, one active voter has an effective date of January 1, (19)18 and an application date of November 7, (19 or 20)06. This entry also indicates it was an election day registration, and that type of information wasn’t consistently recorded until 2005.

MNS contacted Maribeth Witzel-Behl, Madison City Clerk, who said prior to 2005 every municipality had its own system for data entry of poll lists. Since then, Witzel-Behl says, the state has been trying to merge the various databases into the SVRS, which has generated many of the suspect glitches mentioned above.

“We run a check once a month,” Witzel-Behl said regarding duplicate entries, “And that’s how the data gets cleaned up.”

Although the SVRS is currently wrought with errors as local municipalities attempt to adapt to the state’s system, Witzel-Behl said it already helps track voters as they leave one municipality and register in another.

“It’s much better to have the one system,” she said.

Still interested in seeing the poll lists? The GAB charges $25 for SVRS records, plus $5 for every 1000 records.