Election clerks' requests for birth date offends some Wisconsin voters
Some Superior voters were baffled and others offended last week when they were asked for their birth date at the polls. People who have been registered for many years were asked for the information -- data that Wisconsin hasn't requested until re...
Some Superior voters were baffled and others offended last week when they were asked for their birth date at the polls. People who have been registered for many years were asked for the information -- data that Wisconsin hasn't requested until recent years. Birth dates remain confidential.
For instance, they won't be included on standard voter lists that candidates for public office may purchase from local clerks. Still, some voters felt their privacy was being violated in such a public setting.
"The lady in front of me -- you could tell she was very upset," said Pat McKone, who votes in Superior. McKone, too, was taken aback by the request, because there's little privacy at registration tables. McKone said she called the city clerk's office but wasn't happy with the explanation she received.
Wisconsin's Elections Board decided in September to allow birth dates to be collected, public information officer Kyle Richmond said. It's part of a larger effort to minimize voter fraud and comply with the Help America Vote Act. The act was enacted to prevent the type of problems that emerged in Florida during the 2000 presidential vote count.
"There was no intent to embarrass voters in front of other people," he said."The voter registration system is only as good as the data in our system. We want to have a clean database ... so we can differentiate between individuals with similar names. We need to have another piece of data in the system so we can positively distinguish between voters."
To further prevent fraud, additional information is needed to check voter records against death records and lists of felons, he said.
Although birth dates are needed, they're not required from people who are registered. Those people should not have been turned away last week, according to a memo sent from the Statewide Voter Registration System to town, village, city and county clerks.
The state suggested local election judges exercise care in how they ask for birth dates.
"Clerks should instruct poll workers on how to ask voters. Poll workers can politely ask, 'May I have your date of birth?' If a voter asks, 'Why?' the poll worker can inform the voter that Wisconsin is implementing a new statewide voter registration system and each registrant is now required to provide a date of birth if one is missing in the system. The poll worker can educate the voter about voter fraud prevention by explaining that the date of birth verifies a voter by more than just their name and address," the Statewide Voter Registration System said in an Oct. 13 memo.
It also suggested local clerks "... establish a separate station adjacent to the voting area" where the information could be secured in a confidential setting.
Superior didn't use that system, City Clerk Margaret Ciccone said.
"It would have been impractical because people would have had to wait in two lines," she said, forcing them to spend much more time at their polling place. "In a way, people should be happy we're checking. This ensures someone else isn't voting for them. The birthdate is to protect voters."
New registrants don't have the option to withhold their date of birth. And to meet federal mandates, they must provide either the last four digits of their Social Security number, their driver's license number or check a box indicating they lack that information.
"I'm sure one thing voters don't want is to have someone else misrepresent them," Richmond said.