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Inactive voters removed from polling lists

Rural counties have lower registration than statewide average

Jul. 7, 2013
 
Person voting / Getty Images/Comstock Images

Breakdown by county

CountyVoting age 20122013 Registered votersPercent registeredInactive voters
Calumet36,02329,03880.61,492
Outagamie133,930104,01877.75,591
Waupaca40,69129,31172.01,756
Winnebago131,98098,09774.37,724
Statewide4,378,7413,401,12577.7220,411
Source: Government Accountability Board

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State officials purged hundreds of thousands of inactive Wisconsin voters from local voting rolls this spring as part of a regular maintenance procedure.

More than 220,000 voters were removed by the Government Accountability Board, the nonpartisan agency tasked with overseeing the state’s elections and campaign finance laws.

“Local clerks have recorded who all voted in November, and who didn’t,” said Reid Magney, a GAB spokesman. “We can see who hasn’t voted in the last four years, and those people get postcards.”

If voters didn’t respond to the postcard mailed to their address, they are listed as inactive voters and removed from local voting rolls. The GAB conducts this regular maintenance of voting rolls during odd-numbered years after a presidential or gubernatorial election.

A total of 16,563 voters in Calumet, Outagamie, Waupaca and Winnebago counties were removed in the latest round of voter roll maintenance, according to statistics available on the GAB’s website.

That leaves 3.4 million residents registered to vote in Wisconsin, or about 77.7 percent of the voting age population.

Calumet and Outagamie counties are at or above that state average for voter registration. Waupaca and Winnebago counties are below the state average at 72 percent and 74 percent, respectively.

Rural pockets of Wisconsin are among the lowest-registered in the state. Menominee, Juneau and Clark counties all have 65 percent of the voting age population registered or lower.

Those counties’ residents all tend to be less educated, less wealthy, and more likely to live in poverty than the state as a whole. Election experts say the fact that these counties have less registered voters shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“That’s always been the case,” said Ed Miller, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, about the role education and wealth has on voting habits. “I would expect there would be lower registration as well as turnout.”

All these counties also feature an older populace than the state average. This could potentially mean voters are less mobile, and thus less likely to register, or vote, even by an absentee ballot.

“Counties with a lot of elderly people would have lower registration, and lower turnout,” Miller said. “As you get older, the more likely you are to vote, but after a certain age you start to see a decline.”

And if elderly voters stop voting, they’ll eventually be removed from voting rolls by the GAB’s regular maintenance efforts.

The more rural nature of these counties, with residents having to travel farther distances to not only register, but also to vote, could exacerbate these issues. Local clerks offices in larger cities tend to be open for longer than those in smaller precincts, making it harder for those wishing to register to find a time that works for them.

“I imagine some place, especially rural places, the clerks are part time. They might be at the office only a couple hours a day, or even a couple hours a week,” Magney said.

Voters can register the day of the election, but the GAB recently launched a new website that allows residents to fill out a voter registration application online. Residents would then only have to print it out, sign the application, and mail it to their clerk.

All the resident’s information would be saved online, meaning clerks would only have to verify the application was signed, before clicking a button to register them to vote.

“Clerks can go into the system, and with a push of a button all of your information is in there and you are good to go,” Magney said.

But a bill that recently passed the state Assembly would institute a fully online voting registration system by cross-checking information with the Department of Transportation.

Assembly Bill 225, which also makes far-reaching changes to the state’s election and campaign finance laws, would require residents to input their name, date of birth, and driver’s license or state identification card number into a secure website run by the GAB.

— Logan T. Carlson writes for the Marshfield News-Herald. Staff writer Nick Penzenstadler contributed to this report.

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