Several private citizens are sending reports to election officials alleging that certain voter records or voter transactions are improper. Any response to these reports falls to your discretion. However, this communication provides an overview of relevant election laws, policies, and procedures for your consideration.
Wisconsin welcomes the input of third parties who wish to help maintain the accuracy of Wisconsin’s elections and active voter registrations. These private groups may help you identify errors and inaccuracies in your voter records. That said, third-party groups are not screened or vetted in any way by the Wisconsin Elections Commission or any other official agency. Third-party groups may represent partisan political viewpoints, provide incomplete evidence, make incorrect characterizations of the law, or rely on hearsay.
Maintaining accurate voter rolls is an essential function for all election officials, but voter list maintenance must be performed in accordance with Wisconsin law. Clear guidelines for the deactivation of active voter records is provided in Wis. Stat. § 6.325, which states:
No person may be disqualified as an elector unless the municipal clerk, board of election commissioners or a challenging elector under s. 6.48 demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the person does not qualify as an elector or is not properly registered . . . . (emphasis added)
Put simply, election officials should perform their due diligence before taking action to inactivate a voter record. Inactivating a record based solely on the allegations of a private party is unwise and may violate the law. Clerks are therefore strongly encouraged to independently verify third-party claims before acting on them. In addition, voters who may have moved must be sent a 30-day notice as required by Wis. Stat. § 6.50(3).
The remainder of this memorandum reviews some of the most recent claims and relevant background.
1. Voter Moved Out of State
Description: A third-party challenges one or more voter records, claiming that U.S. Postal Service data (the NCOA list) or social media (Facebook, etc.) demonstrates that a voter has left Wisconsin.
Background: NCOA data from the U.S. Postal Service is already reviewed through deliberate processes designed to eliminate false matches. The WEC also obtains information from other states regarding Wisconsin residents who register to vote elsewhere or acquire a driver’s license in another state. Clerks have the authority to inactivate voter records if they obtain reliable information that a voter left the municipality. Wis. Stat. § 6.50(3). This law does not specify what qualifies as “reliable information.” The law also requires a 30-day notice be mailed to the voter before a record is inactivated.
2. Inactive Voters
Description: At least one individual is claiming that active registered electors who have not voted must be inactivated.
Background: Registered voters are not required to vote. Only after four years of inactivity may a registered voter be inactivated for inactivity, unless they request to remain active. This process (commonly called “Four Year Maintenance”) is performed by the WEC, as outlined in law, in odd-numbered years. Wis. Stat. § 6.50(1). Voters may ask to remain in active status even if they do not vote for four consecutive years. Thus, a voter may remain in active status, without voting, for as long as they desire.
3. Voter Resides at a “Vacant” Address
Description: A third party claims that active electors reside at a "vacant property" according to a U.S. Postal Service list.
Background: The U.S. Postal Service reports that there is no “certified” or “verified” list of vacant addresses. Local carriers often track vacant homes but there is no mechanism to independently validate the data and there is no requirement for local carriers to update the data. As a result, the list is at best an informal reminder to postal carriers to check that mail is being picked up. Consequently, this unusual claim should not be taken at face value. If clerks determine that the voter moved from that the address, the voter must receive a 30-day notice as outlined in Wis. Stat. § 6.50(3).
4. Voter Resides at a P.O. Box or Commercial Address
Description: A third party challenges voters who allegedly list a Post Office Box, UPS Store, or similar commercial site as their residential address.
Background: A voter’s residence is “the place where the person’s habitation is fixed, without any present intent to move, and to which, when absent, the person intends to return.” Wis. Stat. § 6.10(1). Post office addresses and commercial addresses are generally invalid, but local officials should verify each individual claim before inactivating voter records. For example, one third-party claimed some voters should be inactivated because their address matched the address of a known Post Office. Upon further examination, the address was the Tomah VA Hospital (which has a post office) and the voters at issue were disabled veterans. Thus, clerks are encouraged to examine each claim individually. Wis. Stat. § 6.48 details the process for challenging a registration.
5. Voter Not Indefinitely Confined
Description: Third parties sometimes claim a specific voter is not indefinitely confined based on social media or other unofficial sources.
Background: Wis. Stat. § 6.86(2) allows qualified electors who self-certify as indefinitely confined due to age, physical illness or infirmity to automatically receive absentee ballots for every election. The Wisconsin Supreme Court determined that: (1) each individual elector make his or her own determination as to whether the elector is indefinitely confined; (2) an elector's determination may be based only upon age, physical illness or infirmity; and (3) an elector is indefinitely confined for his or her own age, physical illness or infirmity, not those of another person. Jefferson v. Dane Cnty. 2020 WI 90, ¶ 2, 394 Wis. 2d 602, 951 N.W.2d 556.
6. Voter is Adjudicated Incompetent
Description: A third party demands a voter or voters be deactivated because they were adjudicated incompetent.
Background: On an ongoing basis, the WEC receives individual case record notices of people who have been deemed by the courts as not competent and also ineligible to vote. The appointment of a guardian or a finding of limited competency may not alone affect a person’s right to vote. Wis. Stat. § 6.03(3). The adjudication of incompetence is a confidential finding not available on CCAP or other public sources. A finding of incompetence must be communicated in writing by the clerk of court to election officials. Wis. Stat. § 54.25(2)(c)1.g. Third-party claims are unlikely to be accurate and should be validated through official sources. Clerks should review incompetency notices on WisVote through the “Adjudicated Incompetent” tile.
7. Duplicate Voter Records
Description: A third party challenges one or more voter records as a duplicate in the system.
Background: Duplicate records are automatically identified and flagged through the registration list alert process in WisVote. Third parties do not have access to birth date data or to the current registration list. As a result, they falsely identify non-duplicates and also flag records previously reported to clerks through the Registration List Alert process. In some cases, third parties may identify actual duplicate records that may be merged, however these matches should be reviewed and verified by clerks. Wis. Stat. § 6.325.
If you have questions or concerns regarding third-party claims, please contact us at our Help Desk at @email or call (608)261-2028.