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G.A.B. Report Spurs Wisconsin Attorney General to Finally Concede Voter Records Lawsuit

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Date: 
January 16, 2009

MADISON, WI – The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board’s (G.A.B.) decision to study data before ordering a large-scale check of old voter records was again validated Thursday by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s move to end a voter records lawsuit.

“The Attorney General’s decision to drop his lawsuit is the right thing to do,” said G.A.B. Chairman Judge Michael Brennan. “In October, the court found that the Board’s approach to implementing the Help America Vote Act was correct and lawful.”

Last July, the Board began a process for matching voter data with Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicle and Social Security Administration records. The Board then directed its staff to analyze the impact on election administration of conducting retroactive checks.

On Thursday, the G.A.B. reviewed and released a report on the federally required “HAVA Check” procedure. The report reinforces the Board’s previous decision that the matching should not supplant voter eligibility requirements set forth in Wisconsin’s Constitution and statutes. Rather the data matching process is one tool to help improve voter information.

The G.A.B. had earlier determined that its final decision regarding retroactive “HAVA Checks” would be based on a complete analysis of the facts gathered after the November election. The Board had reaffirmed that decision at its meetings in August, October, and December, but the Attorney General proceeded with litigation despite the Board's previous actions and ruling that “HAVA Checks” should not impact a citizen’s right to vote.

"The Attorney General would have been well-served to have also waited for the facts before filing his lawsuit," said Kevin Kennedy, G.A.B. Director and General Counsel.

“The Board’s decision last July and subsequent actions have consistently sought to avoid unfairly disenfranchising voters,” Kennedy said. “At the same time, the Board made clear for the last six months that voter data would be cross-checked in accordance with the federal Help America Vote Act.”

The statistical report shows that almost 90 percent of voter records match, and that of those that do not, almost all are due to a variation in name or typographical errors.

“We had to understand the facts before jumping to conclusions,” G.A.B. Chairman Brennan said. “This report shows the Board and the public data mismatches may occur for a variety of reasons, all of which are unrelated to voter eligibility.”

The G.A.B. staff will begin the retroactive “HAVA Check” procedure after the 2009 Spring Election in Wisconsin to continue improving the quality of voter data in the Statewide Voter Registration System. The process should be complete by November.