Why does the statewide voter registration database include multiple voters with birth dates of 1/1/1900 and registration dates of 1/1/1918?

  • Default dates of birth and voter registration dates in the WisVote database is not a newly discovered issue or an indication of voter fraud.  This information has been in the State Voter Registration System (SVRS) and WisVote system since at least 2006 and is the result of data migration from over 200 different legacy voter registration systems maintained by individual municipalities that in 2005 were moved into the comprehensive statewide system.    
  • Individuals and advocacy groups reporting that a 1/1/1900 date of birth or a 1/1/1918 registration date for a voter in WisVote is a sign of fraud, hacking or some other irregularity that impacted an election are unfortunately contributing to misinformation about Wisconsin elections, based on a lack of understanding of how SVRS and WisVote came into existence more than 15 years ago.

Here is why those seemingly odd, and old, dates exist in WisVote: 

Prior to 2005 voter registration in municipalities with less than 5,000 in population was not required in Wisconsin.  In municipalities with more than 5,000 in population, voter registration was required and was tracked in many different databases and spreadsheets maintained by those municipalities – not by the state of Wisconsin in any central location. 

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (“HAVA”) required “statewide” voter registration in Wisconsin (and all other states with a population greater than 500,000 residents) and it required the state agency overseeing elections to maintain a database of voters in all cities, villages, and towns in Wisconsin (approximately 1,850 across 72 counties).

To comply with federal and state law, the State Elections Board (succeeded by the Government Accountability Board, and later the current Wisconsin Elections Commission) developed the original statewide voter registration database and election management system called SVRS.  The SVRS has been succeeded by the current database and election management system developed and maintained by the WEC called WisVote.

Between the passage of HAVA and full implementation of statewide voter registration in 2006, municipalities with more than 5,000 in population that already had a database of legally registered voters worked to transfer the existing voter registration data from their own municipal system (“legacy system”) into SVRS.  In some of these municipalities prior to 2006 certain pieces of voter information were not required when registering to vote and was therefore not obtained at the time the voter registered. However, that information was required in the new SVRS system per state statutes.  (Wis. Stat. § 6.36(1)).  

In those situations where a municipality’s legacy system did not track a voter’s date of birth or initial date of registration, a default date for either of those was entered into the SVRS for that voter as these were required fields moving forward from 2006.  The default date of birth is 1/1/1900 and the default date of registration is 1/1/1918.  See FAQ on other data conversion questions regarding phone numbers found here: https://elections.wi.gov/resources/quick-reference-topics/why-are-there-thousands-voters-same-phone-number-listed-statewide

Since 2006, many of these default values have gone away, as voters move or update their name which requires them to re-register to vote. The voter’s “old” record containing the default information (1/1/1900 DOB or 1/1/1918 date of registration) is merged with the “new” record that the voter creates.  This merge of records maintains the voter’s history of participation in elections, the voter’s former address or former name. Some voters have also proactively updated their date of birth with their local clerk even if they were not required to do so as part of a new voter registration. And some municipal clerks have also proactively contacted voters who have default information and asked them to update the information.

Even so, as of fall 2021 there are still about 3,700 active voter records that contain default information for date of birth. In addition, about 120,000 records exist in the system with a default date of voter registration. Voters in either of those groups are not affected in any way by the default dates shown in their registration record.

It’s important to note that a legally registered voter who has not changed any information which requires them to re-register stays registered regardless of whether the clerk has asked for an update or not.  Except for individual efforts by an elections clerk to update the records for a voter with the default dates, those values for date of birth and date of registration in a voter’s record remain there unless or until they have a reason to complete a new voter registration form, such as a change of address or name.