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When I talk to people about my research into Wisconsin elections how our votes are recorded, many don’t understand why I’m bothering.  To them, there’s nothing to research: we register, we vote, we see the results, and we deal with the winner, whether or not “our guy” won.  The assumptions right off the bat are that each and every vote counts, that each and every election official is honest, and that each and every machine used to store and tabulate votes is trustworthy.  I used to think that way, too.  But with the 3-ring circus that Wisconsin politics and elections has been these past 18 months, with the Prosser/Kloppenburg fiasco, and now with the way the June 5th recall election was handled, I’ve really come to question those basic assumptions – especially the first one: that each and every vote counts.

The Voter Public Access site, or VPA, allows you to – according to the site – “Look up your voter record to check your voter status…”  It also lets you check your voter history.  But that’s a bit of a misnomer because if you are a newly registered voter, nothing will show up for you until your registration information has been verified…at least, from what I can tell.  I continue to check the registration status of four people who I know registered to vote on June 5th recall election, and none of them are showing up on VPA.  So, as far as the VPA is concerned, they are not registered voters who voted on June 5th.  Yet, anyway.

VPA also doesn’t tell you if your status is pending – say, if you had to re-register for some reason (became inactive or needed to update your residence).  I have one friend who is a registered voter and updated her address on June 5th.  She shows up in VPA as a registered voter, but at her old address and without any kind of notation that her status is pending an update, and her participation in the June 5th election is not listed.  So, again, it’s a misnomer that you can “check your voter status”.  What the site should say is

”You can check if you are registered to vote and, if so, you can check your voter history…but if you’ve recently updated your registration information, that might not show up for a while.  So, MABYE you can check your voter status.”

Now, I will be the first to say that seeing your information on VPA is not a guarantee that your vote counted, but at least you can see that you voted. This is important to me, and it’s important for new voters who just registered, for two reasons:

The first is that we have another election coming up on August 14th, and the voter lists that will be used come from the Statewide Voter Registration System…the same database that powers the VPA site.  This is coming straight from the Government Accountability Board’s “Election Day Manual”, dated October 2011.

“The poll list contains the names and addresses of registered voters in a reporting unit. The municipal clerk will provide poll lists to each polling place. These poll lists have been generated from the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS), which is Wisconsin’s statewide database for tracking voter registrations.”
It also says,
“Regular Poll List: Contains the names of all electors who register by 5:00
p.m. on the 20th day before the election.”
This means that anyone who is not listed as a registered voter 20 days before the next election will not be on the poll list when they go to vote.  

Then what?  Will they have to register again?  Well, that could be problematic because people who think they are registered but aren’t on the list may not have with them what they need to register – which, as far as I’m concerned, is a sly way to disenfranchise – or at least, inconvenience – potentially thousands of eligible voters.  I’m not okay with that.  Not in the least.  Especially since we are now only 16 days away from the next election.

The second reason it’s important is that we must now ask, “What about their votes on June 5th…did they count?”  How do we know?  If all we can go by is what’s on VPA (because we don’t get any kind of receipt when we vote), and people who registered at the last election aren’t showing up, how we know their votes counted?  

This is why I’m doing what I’m doing.  Because I have a need to know – nay, a RIGHT to know – that our votes really do count.  I worked for months to get people to vote, promising that their votes really did count, and 4 of those people are gravely disappointed and discouraged.  If for no other reason, I owe it to them to continue looking into this.  And so I shall.    

If you or someone you know registered to vote prior to the June 5th recall election, or updated your information, check your voter status and history.  If you don’t see what you expect to see, I’d love to hear from you.
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