Election Law @ Moritz

2006 Election Overview

2006 Elections Overview

Overview of Wisconsin Voting Process in November, 2006

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Introduction

Wisconsin’s November election was somewhat successful, although ballot shortages delayed voting in some areas and latent problems with the state’s voter registration database continue to raise concerns.  Implementation of the system is behind schedule and officials claim the project is under-funded.  The partial state of implementation and general disorganization fueled Republican allegations of fraud, which were answered by Democratic accusations that the GOP was trying to suppress votes.  Wisconsin also experienced long lines in some polling locations as well as difficulties obtaining sufficient poll workers and reporting election results on time.

Technology problems

The City of Madison reported that special voting machines for the disabled were not working properly.  Did bomb threat stifle vote?, Capital Times, November 8, 2006.

In Sheboygan Falls, voters had to use flashlights to vote after a power outage.  Did bomb threat stifle vote?, Capital Times, November 8, 2006.  Also, one machine in Sheboygan County jammed up and had to be replaced.

In the September primary, Wisconsin experienced various problems with special electronic voting machines designed for the disabled.  A tough test on Election Day, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 28, 2006.

Long lines

High voter turnout contributed to long lines, especially in Milwaukee, Madison and Eau Claire student areas, where turnout was sixty-six percent higher than in 2002.  Election drew near record numbers, Wisconsin State Journal, November 13, 2006.  About a dozen precincts ran out of ballots and officials scrambled to supply replacements.  The Wisconsin State Journal also reported that Election Day Registration lines on the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus stretched out the door—another factor that created delays.  A representative of the League of Women Voters stated that difficulties in finding people to serve as poll workers exacerbated the delays.

Database problems

The November election was only the second time Wisconsin’s State Voter Registration System (SVRS) was actually used in an election.  A tough test on Election Day, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 28, 2006.  Officials reported that it generally worked well, but did fail to process absentee ballot requests properly.  This forced some municipal election clerks to return to using their old registration databases.  The glitch was eventually fixed, but not until much of the absentee voting process had been completed. Municipal clerks also reported that the SVRS system runs slowly and sometimes gets shut down for maintenance without warning.

The State Elections Board asked poll workers to attempt to obtain birth date information from voters at the polls so that information could be added to the SVRS system.  A tough test on Election Day, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 28, 2006.  The request came because prior to 2003, people did not have to provide this information in order to register.  Despite the fact that the State Elections Board thought this information was important for identification purposes, many local authorities refused to cooperate in gathering it because they felt it would frustrate already strained poll workers.  An October news report indicated about 450,000 voters had no birth date listed in the database.  Elections Board requests big raise, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 3, 2006.

GOP lawmakers alleged that Milwaukee election officials were allowing people to vote who registered with false addresses or whose registrations suffered from other problems.  Parties spar over city voter lists, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 27, 2006.  The issue came to light when the city checked its records against U.S. Postal Service address records, which found about 2,900 suspect addresses.  The GOP obtained this list and followed up by sending postcards to those addresses.  When about 1,600 of them were returned undeliverable, the GOP alleged fraud.  Democrats responded by accusing the Republicans of attempting to suppress the vote.  Local officials said that they had marked the suspect voters’ names in the poll books and on Election Day the voters would be questioned about their true addresses.  Similar problems in the 2004 elections led to the convictions of some voters found to have committed voting fraud.

The State Board of Elections stated in October that it would need an additional $1 million per year to properly maintain the SRVS system.  Elections Board requests big raise, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 3, 2006.  At the time, the database still was not fully functional despite a federal requirement that it become so nine months earlier.  The money would help cover expenses associated with linking the database to driver records, death records, and lists of disenfranchised felons. 

Counting delays

In Waukesha County, officials fell two hours behind other counties in reporting election results.  City’s ballot delay vexes officials, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 9, 2006.  Officials attributed the delays to high voter turnout, Election Day registrations, and large numbers of absentee ballots.  Ozaukee and Washington counties experienced the same phenomenon.  Busy day at the polls slowed some results, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 9, 2006.  In Washington County, part of the delays stemmed from computer modems used to transmit results from optical scan voting machines

Bad faith activity

In Dane County, a bomb threat on a polling place located within East High School shut down the facility for roughly an hour.  Did bomb threat stifle vote?, Capital Times, November 8, 2006.  However, poll workers adjusted by moving voting equipment outside the building, where voting continued.  Bomb threat extends voting at East High, Wisconsin State Journal, November 8, 2006.  A judge ordered that the polling place be kept open one hour past the traditional 8 p.m. closing time to compensate for the threat.  The threat occurred in one of Wisconsin’s most liberal precincts, but police were unable to link the threat to any political motivation.  Kevin Kennedy, the executive director of the State Elections Board, stated that this was the only voting delay in the state.

Provisional ballot confusion

Wisconsin experienced some conflict over what information and documentation must be provided in order to cast a provisional ballot.  Provisional ballots were no problem, Wisconsin State Journal, November 1, 2006.  In the end, officials settled upon a plan that allowed voters who have valid driver’s licenses but cannot provide their driver’s license numbers at the polls to cast a provisional ballot.  The ballot will be counted if the voter provides his or her driver’s license number by 4 p.m. the day after the election.

Wisconsin only requires voter identification for first-time voters who registered by mail and voters who attempt to register on Election Day.  See 50 Questions for 50 States:  Wisconsin, question 14.

Polling place conditions

Milwaukee Chief of Police Nannette Hegerty refused a request made by Republicans and a police union leader that called for police officers to be stationed at all Milwaukee polling locations.  Hegerty rebuffs call for officers at every polling station, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 28, 2006.  The requests were based on an interpretation of a state law that the Milwaukee City Attorney said was flawed.  State Democrats were concerned that complying with the request would be an inefficient use of resources and might also deter some voters from appearing at the polls. 

Security problems

Voters signed up to automatically receive absentee ballots sometimes received two ballots when officials failed to cross-check incoming requests against the list of automatic recipients.  A tough test on Election Day, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 28, 2006.  However, a representative of the Milwaukee Election Commission stated that officials scan a bar code printed on all incoming ballots that would prevent any voter from casting two effective votes. 

Supply problems

Some precincts in the city of Whitewater ran out of optical scan ballots and had to distribute emergency ballots for a time.  Towns won’t appeal District 43 recount results, Janesville Gazette, December 8, 2006.  The problem was compounded when officials initially forgot to count the votes cast on emergency ballots.  The error was discovered in a subsequent recount and correcting it turned the result of a race for a state legislative post.

Miscellaneous stories

  • In Milwaukee, officials ordered poll workers to take down signs warning paroled felons that they could not vote.  Did bomb threat stifle vote?, Capital Times, November 8, 2006.  The workers later replaced the signs at the behest of the City Attorney’s office.
  • The Century Foundation issued a report criticizing Wisconsin’s voting system for not issuing provisional ballots to voters who appear at the wrong precinct, and for insufficient training of poll workers.  Study finds flaws in state voting system, Wisconsin State Journal, October 13, 2006.  However, the report also praised Wisconsin’s system of Election Day Registration.
  • In response to concerns over the shortage of poll workers, Wisconsin elections officials reached out to corporations and non-profit organizations to try to find more workers.  Election head vows a smooth Nov. 7, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 7, 2006.
  • According to a report produced by electionline.org, some voters alleged they were asked to show identification before voting.  Wisconsin does not currently have a voter identification requirement except for first-time voters who registered by mail and voters who attempt to register on Election Day.
  • For other litigation surrounding the November election, see Major Pending Cases or the Major Pending Cases Archives.