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Registration procrastination could lead to voter frustration

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Frank Schultz
September 27, 2012

— Did you register to vote on Election Day 2008? Remember how long you stood in line?

In the city of Janesville, 4,556 people registered on that day at the city's 10 polling places. That's about 14 percent of everyone who voted.

City Clerk Jean Wulf figures most of those people had to wait 30 to 60 minutes just to register.

"You not only stand in line to register. Then you have to stand in line to get your ballot," Wulf noted.

Many people vote only in presidential elections, so that's when the lines are the longest.

But it's easy to avoid the registration line Nov. 6, Wulf said. Just register now.

If you are new to Wisconsin, or if you have moved since the last time you voted, you must register.

Not only will early registration save you time Nov. 6, but registering by Wednesday, Oct. 17, will be easier than after Oct. 17.

After Oct. 17, you must provide a document that lists your address. Before Oct. 17, no proof of residence is needed unless you are a first-time voter and you mail your registration form, Wulf said.

The reason for the cutoff is that the earlier registrations can be checked by the state's HAVA system.

HAVA refers to the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The law requires states to check voter registrations against state databases.

You don't need to show an identity card to register, but you must enter your driver's license number on the form, if you have a driver's license.

If you don't have a driver's license, you can use the number of your state ID card. If you don't have a state ID or driver's license, the last four digits of your Social Security number will do, Wulf said.

If you use your driver's license or state ID card numbers, the state checks those against Department of Motor Vehicles records. If you use your Social Security number, the state checks with the Social Security Administration.

Each registration triggers a HAVA check. As part of that check, a postcard is sent to the voter's address. If the postcard comes back as undeliverable, then the local municipal clerk checks to see if an error has been made.

If the registration information does not match the state database because of a misspelled name, or a "Bill" instead of a "William," or a wrong middle initial, the municipal clerk's office also checks that and corrects it, Wulf said.

There's not enough time to do the HAVA check and get a postcard returned after Oct. 17, so that's why proof of residence is required after that date.

Registration at the municipal clerk's office continues through Friday, Nov. 2. After that, the only option is to register at the polls Nov. 6 and face a long line.

"Register now. It's much easier," Wulf said.

VOTER REGISTRATIONS SCRUTINIZED

For those who worry about voter fraud, consider that creating a false identity to vote is not easy.

The Government Accountability Board, the state's voting agency, checks each registration against records at the Department of Motor Vehicles or Social Security Administration. But that's not the only safeguard.

The agency also regularly checks with the Department of Health Services for death certificates and with the Department of Corrections for felony convictions, said Reid Magney, agency spokesman.

If a voter is found to have died or is serving a felony sentence, the state notifies the local clerk, who checks to verify and, if necessary, removes the name from the voter list.

If checks turn up a suspicious registration, the clerk informs local law enforcement or the district attorney's office, Magney said. Voter fraud is a felony offense.

Janesville City Clerk Jean Wulf guessed she has sent two suspicious registrations to the district attorney's office in her 23 years as clerk. She wasn't aware of any convictions.



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