Wisconsin clerks rushing to correct flaws in voter data before spring primaries
Post by Christie Taylor on 1/12/2012 5:10pm
The Wisconsin State Journal is reporting that a glitch in the state elections database is causing some Wisconsin voters to be listed in the wrong wards, municipalities, or school districts following the switch to the new, Republican-drawn maps in the state voter registration system.
The GAB has known about the potential for error since at least Nov. 18, when the board sent a memo to county clerks saying it was related to the Census Bureau data by which voters’ locations were tracked. Previously, districts were assigned based on ranges of street addresses, which could be a problem if communities had similar street names. The new system uses latitude and longitude to assign addresses to districts.
Clerks around the state are working to correct voter information. Local primary elections will take place around the state on Feb. 21. If voter information isn’t corrected by then, clerks say, voters might either try to vote at the wrong polling location, or find that their names are not on the voter list at the correct polling location.
Dane County Clerk Karen Peters said that clerks had been working hard since Wednesday morning to correct voter information in time for the primary, but it was likely not every record would be fixed by then, especially in areas like Madison, where about 1,000 voters were currently listed incorrectly because of an because of an inaccurate census block. She said census blocks, inaccurately, often do not end in the middle of streets as they should, and can be off by as much as 50 meters."
“These voters are so close to the boundary, we don’t know for sure if we put them in the right one,” she said. “There’s not going to be time between now and February to check all those exceptions.”
However, she said, as long as those voters arrived well before the polls closed, they could be guided to the correct polling location based on their address, as has been done in previous elections.
And of the other problem, she said, where voters might have no assigned polling place at all, very few records exist, and those that do will be easily fixed. “There are something like four of them in Madison,” she said.
As for the problem of voters showing up on the coast of Africa? That’s likely because they had no latitude or longitude data associated with their address. “If the system just literally can’t find that address, it sends them to zero latitude and longitude, which is right next to Nigeria,” Peters said.
Although Democratic leaders say the rushed redistricting process this year led to the errors, particularly the Legislature’s decision to use Census blocks for the new legislative districts rather than pre-existing wards (which are themselves built using census blocks), Peters and other clerks have said that’s not necessarily the case.
“Any time you take this amount of data and change it as drastically as we did this, you’re going to have some problems,” she said. “With every redistricting there are these types of issues.”
She also said that such glitches are not unusual in a redistricting year, and that the switch to the new system only compounded the problem. The new system will also remove the chance of redundancies that sometimes cropped up under the old system, which was its own problem.
The GAB’s Voter Public Access site, which allows voters to look up their registration status and plling place location, is also currently inaccurate, but will "likely" be accurate in time for the February deadline, Peters said. She encouraged anyone who wasn’t sure about their polling place under the new redistricting maps to double check there.
Christie Taylor (@ctaylsaurus) covers science, environment, and, depending on the season, state politics for dane101. She verbs a lot of nouns, including rollerskates, radio, and Kurt Vonnegut. A Madison native, she's not sure she'll ever quite manage to leave Wisconsin, and that's just fine by her. Contact her at email@example.com.