Posts on Wisconsin voter registration data lack context
CLAIM: In Wisconsin, 23,000 people registered to vote with the same phone number, and records show 4,000 voters registered on Jan. 1, 1918.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. Before Wisconsin implemented its statewide voter registration database and election management system, some municipalities did not require voter registration. Where registration was required, there was no stipulation that phone numbers or registration date be listed. When cities transferred their data into a new statewide system, a default phone number and registration date was used to fill in that information when it was missing.
THE FACTS: In early October, the Racine County GOP released a letter raising questions around why 23,000 voters in the state had listed the same phone number and 4,000 used a registration date from 1918. As elections were held across the U.S. this week, posts circulated widely on social media sharing the numbers, with some falsely suggesting the information showed evidence of voter fraud.
“BREAKING REPORT: Wisconsin’s Racine County GOP Finds 23,000 VOTERS WITH THE SAME PHONE NUMBER and 4,000 Voters Registered on January 1st, 1918…,’ said one tweet.
“Why does Wisconsin have 23,000 registered voters with the same phone number?,” another post asked.
Racine GOP officials did not respond to a request to discuss the numbers.
But election officials have a simple answer to explain the numbers. When voter information from across the state was merged into a new statewide election management system, a default phone number and registration year _ Jan. 1, 1918 _ was used in cases where that information was missing.
Prior to 2005, Wisconsin did not require voter registration in towns with populations less than 5,000. Towns with larger populations required voters to register but there was no uniform requirement for what personal information was recorded.
That changed when a statewide voting system was established under the Help America Vote Act of 2002. During that process the state updated its system for managing voter registration and for tracking voter records. As part of that, municipalities transferred information from the voter rolls into a state management system known first as SVRS, and later WisVote, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
“It was quite a task for the state to pull together all the scattered files that the cities had and put them into one big database,” said Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Burden noted that even now many voters do not submit a phone number because they do not know how it will be used. Phone numbers are not required.
The issue around the 23,000 registrations with the same phone number was also raised during the 2020 presidential election. Biden won by 21,000 votes over former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, which has held up even with recounts and court rulings.
The Legislative Audit Bureau audit released on Oct. 22 ultimately found that there was no widespread voter fraud and that dozens of voting machines had worked correctly in the state during the presidential election.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.