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By Sarah Hauer November 6, 2015

Scott Walker says state board failed for 16 elections to audit voter list to remove felons

To rally support for a GOP bill to break apart Wisconsin’s agency that oversees elections and ethics matters, Gov. Scott Walker is casting the Government Accountability Board as incompetent.

At one point, he stormed Twitter using the #ReformGAB hashtag. In one Oct. 13, 2015 tweet, he claimed the agency wanted to consider Mickey Mouse and Adolf Hitler as valid signatures on recall petitions -- a claim we rated False.

In another tweet from the series that day, Walker wrote:

"GAB ignored their duties & did not regularly audit the voter rolls to remove all felons - for a span of 16 elections. #ReformGAB"

With the issue still awaiting final action in the Republican-controlled Legislature, we decided to check it out.

GAB history

In 2007, the Legislature combined two agencies -- one overseeing ethics, the other overseeing elections -- to create the Government Accountability Board.

The board was created in the wake of the 2002 caucus scandal, which involved politicians from both sides of the aisle misusing taxpayer-paid staffers to conduct campaign work, and amid other questions about how well elections were being overseen. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) led the charge. The bill was approved unanimously in the Senate and only had two dissenting votes in the Assembly.

Since 2008, the board -- made up of retired judges appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate -- has overseen Wisconsin elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws. One of the board’s responsibilities is to conduct post-election reviews to determine if any felons voted in that election.

That’s where Walker’s claim comes in.

The audit

Walker’s team pointed to a December 2014 report from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau as support for his claim that the board "ignored their duties and did not regularly audit" voters to remove felons "for a span of 16 elections."

So what does the report say?

Featured Fact-check

According to the audit, GAB officials told auditors in May 2014 that post-election felon audits from 16 elections between February 2010 through April 2014 had not been completed.

Under state law, the board is required to conduct post-election audits of voters who registered on Election Day, or within 20 days before an election, to determine if any ineligible felons voted.

The GAB staff told auditors they did not perform these reviews, in part, because of concerns that the system to identify felons who remained on probation or parole wasn’t reliable. Individuals who are not felons were being flagged as having voting illegally. One person was even charged with illegally voting as a felon based on a false positive match.

Agency officials said they put post-election audits on hold until the system for checks was more accurate. The agency added additional steps to the final audit to catch false positives before referral to the district attorney. The audit notes the review was completed by July 2014.

So this duty was postponed for 16 elections, but not ignored entirely.

What’s more, Walker’s claim is a bit jumbled.

He said the ignored duty was meant to remove felons. But the post-election felon audit is a final check to see if any felons voted, not primarily to remove them from voter rolls. That effort comes earlier in the process, and is done mainly by local clerks.

Each month, GAB receives a list of felons from the Department of Corrections, which is then compared against the voter list. Matches are referred to the voter’s municipal clerk’s office, which decides if there is a true match and inactivates the voter.

The Legislative Audit Bureau did not find GAB to have neglected this duty.

GAB also provides clerks with the list of felons before the election to ensure none of them received an absentee ballot, registered later or on Election Day.

Our rating

Walker said the state Government Accountability Board "ignored their duties and did not regularly audit" voters to remove felons "for a span of 16 elections."

The GAB postponed the completion of post-election audits, due to concerns about inaccurate identification of felons, according to a Legislative Audit Bureau report. But the audit in question was not primarily designed to remove voters from the rolls as Walker claims. That work, which involves local clerks, comes before the election.

For a statement that is partially accurate, but misleading, we rate the claim Half True.

Our Sources

Email exchange with Laurel Patrick, press secretary, Office of Gov. Scott Walker.

Legislative Audit Bureau, Government Accountability Board, December 2014.

Government Accountability Board, Felon audit and duplicate vote verification processes, Jan. 9, 2014.  

Phone interview and email exchange with Reid Magney, Public information officer, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board works; it keeps felons from voting, Jan. 11, 2015.

Wisconsin State Legislature, Wisconsin statute 6.56 (3m).

PolitiFact Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker says board wanted to accept Mickey Mouse, Hitler as valid signatures in recall, Oct. 16, 2015.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Senate could vote on GAB, campaign finance bills next week, Oct. 28, 2015.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Sarah Hauer

Scott Walker says state board failed for 16 elections to audit voter list to remove felons

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