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The false claim that 100,000 Wisconsin voters registered more than 100 years ago
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- Wisconsin municipalities kept their own registration records — and the smallest municipalities weren’t required to keep records at all — until a 2002 federal law required a statewide database and a standard format.
- When a municipality’s system didn’t track a voter’s date of birth or initial date of registration, a default date was entered into the statewide system: 1/1/1900 for date of birth and 1/1/1918 for date of registration. Such placeholders for missing information have been used by other states as well.
- As of the fall of 2021 in Wisconsin, there were still about 3,700 active voter records that contain default information for date of birth and about 120,000 records exist in the system with a default date of voter registration.
A video on Facebook suggests that the Wisconsin voter rolls are padded with tens of thousands of voters who registered to vote more than a century ago.
"The Wisconsin voter roll has over 120,000 active voters who have been registered to vote for over 100 years," said the speaker in a Facebook video shared Jan. 7. "The margin of victory is 20,000. Yes that’s right: Biden beat Trump by 21,000 votes yet there are over 120,000 people in Wisconsin who are more than 100 years old and they are voters."
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The video comes from Ivory Hecker, a Fox 26 Houston general assignment reporter who was fired in 2021 after she accused Fox Corp of "muzzling" her live on air and said she made recordings of her bosses and gave them to Project Veritas, an organization known for undercover reporting using hidden cameras and selectively edited recordings. Hecker told us she is now an independent journalist.
Ivory’s video clip doesn’t flat out say that these improbably old voters are a sign of fraud, but it implies that there is something suspicious about the battleground state’s voter rolls. Democrat Joe Biden did beat Republican incumbent Donald Trump for president in Wisconsin by roughly 21,000 votes.
Hecker’s video ignores the explanation by the Wisconsin Elections Commission about why there are so many voters with dates of birth of 1900 and registration years of 1918 in their registration system. The short answer is that the old dates come from merging municipal records statewide more than a decade ago, and the 1900 and 1918 were used as default dates if the records lacked a date of birth or registration date.
Since 2020, one of the common falsehoods spread on social media or by political figures is that the voter rolls are filled with dead people, or people well above 100 years old. We debunked claims about dead people on the voter rolls in Virginia, Nevada, Wisconsin and Detroit, Michigan.The falsehoods generally stem from either administrative errors or a misunderstanding about the administration of election records.
Hecker’s video is a teaser to her full show on YouTube in which she explained that she heard the claim about the 120,000 voters from Christina Bobb, a reporter for OAN, a rightwing media outlet. Bobb drew her information from a Dec. 8 hearing by a Wisconsin Assembly committee hearing where a supposed software expert, Jeff O’Donnell, testified about the voters whose records showed they had been registered for more than 100 years. But he acknowledged that the registration date of 1918 was "perhaps a placeholder."
The next day, Trump’s Save America PAC highlighted coverage of the hearing by the right-wing Gateway Pundit.
Prior to 2005, voter registration in municipalities with less than 5,000 individuals was not required in Wisconsin. In more populous municipalities, election officials tracked their own voter registration information through various databases and spreadsheets.
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 required the state to maintain a database of all voters, a project which was implemented a few years later.
When a municipality’s system didn’t track a voter’s date of birth or initial date of registration, a default date was entered into the statewide system: 1/1/1900 for date of birth and 1/1/1918 for date of registration.
"Default dates of birth and voter registration dates in the WisVote database is not a newly discovered issue or an indication of voter fraud," the state wrote in 2020. The older dates are a result of the state migrating over hundreds of municipal records into a state system.
Since 2006, many of these default dates have gone away, as voters move or update their names. The voter’s former record with the default dates would then be merged with the new record with updated information.
As of the fall of 2021, there were still about 3,700 active voter records that contain default information for date of birth and about 120,000 records exist in the system with a default date of voter registration.
The practice of using a default date in a registration database when a voter’s record lacks the information has also been used in Ohio and North Carolina.
Hecker told PolitiFact in an email that "I never called this issue fraud. Voter roll anomalies often appear to be due to laziness — lack of voter roll maintenance. Lack of maintenance can open the door for fraud. That's why this matters."
We sent Hecker a link from the Wisconsin Elections Commission that showed their explanation of the 1900 and 1918 dates. "This lack of accurate and up-to-date information is indeed a problem and an anomaly," Hecker replied.
Hecker’s video clip said "the Wisconsin voter roll has over 120,000 active voters who have been registered to vote for over 100 years."
This is inaccurate. There are about 120,000 records in Wisconsin’s voter database that show a default registration date of 1/1/1918, but this is not representative of voters who have been registered for 100 years. Rather, it’s the result of a data migration workaround that came about 16 years ago when Wisconsin merged its statewide database with municipal databases.
We rate this claim False.
RELATED: Are dead people among the names in Wisconsin voter roll purge?
RELATED: Fact-checking the avalanche of Wisconsin election misinformation
Ivory Hecker, Facebook video, Jan. 7, 2022
Ivory Hecker, Cutting Through Fake Narratives About ⅙, Jan. 6, 2022
OAN’s Christina Bobb, Tweet, Dec. 8, 2021
Wisconsin Elections Commission, Questions and answers about the 2020 election
Washington Post, No, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites haven’t been registered to vote since 1918, Dec. 2021
Reuters, Fact Check-Claims about 23,000 Wisconsin voters with the same phone number and 4,000 voters registered on 1/1/1918 missing context, Nov. 3, 2021
Lead Stories, Fact Check: Wisconsin Did NOT Have An Active Voter Turnout Of 93.7% In 2020 -- It Was 72.6%, Jan. 12, 2022
Houston Chronicle, Opinion: Fired reporter's recordings of Fox 26 bosses are underwhelming, June 16, 2021
The Wrap, Fox 26 Houston Fires ‘Disgruntled Former Employee’ Ivory Hecker for On-Air Network Attack (Video) June 15, 2021
Save America PAC, ICYMI: "HUGE: Wisconsin Election Hearing Reveals 119,283 ‘Active Voters’ Who Have Been Registered For Over 100 Years!" Dec. 9, 2021
PolitiFact, Dead voters on Detroit’s voter rolls, including person born in 1823? That post is outdated, Nov. 5, 2020
PolitiFact, Donald Trump Jr. distorts Michigan data on dead voters, Aug. 18, 2020
PolitiFact, Post wrongly says thousands of ballots sent to dead people, pets in Virginia and Nevada, Sept. 9, 2020
PolitiFact, Are dead people among the names in Wisconsin voter roll purge? Jan. 30, 2020
PolitiFact, Voter fraud claim in Ohio special election lacks evidence, Aug. 20, 2018
PolitiFact, No, thousands of dead people are not registered to vote in North Carolina, May 18, 2017
Email interview, Riley Vetterkind, spokesperson for Wisconsin Elections Commission, Jan. 12, 2022
Email interview, Ivory Hecker, independent journalist, Jan. 12, 2022
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The false claim that 100,000 Wisconsin voters registered more than 100 years ago
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