Wisconsin Ranks Near The Top On Conducting Elections

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Wisconsin Ranks Near The Top On Conducting Elections

Premiere Date: 
April 11, 2014

Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy discusses the ranking.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

First a new national profile of elections performance from the Pew Charitable Trust puts Wisconsin at the head of the pack. Kudos to Kevin Kennedy, director of the state Government Accountability Board. He joins us now. Thanks for being here.

Kevin Kennedy:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what was your reaction when you learned that Wisconsin ranked number three overall nationally in elections performance?

Kevin Kennedy:

Well, on one level we were expecting high rankings. Maybe I was disappointed that we weren't number one or two. But we've been in the top, this is the third time they've done this, and according to rankings, we've been second, third or fourth. So I'm very proud for all the people who work very hard on elections, all of our local election officials, our staff. I think it's something that the public and lawmakers can take a lot of confidence in how well elections are run in the state.

Frederica Freyberg:

In one index, Wisconsin ranks number one, so there's your number one ranking. And that is for the small number of provisional ballots cast. First of all, describe for us what those are, and what that number one ranking says about elections in Wisconsin.

Kevin Kennedy:

Well, a provisional ballot is given to a voter who has a problem on election day, because their name doesn't appear on the list, and they're convinced that they had filled out the proper paperwork. And this is a way of solving that problem. The ballot doesn't count unless they can correct it. In Wisconsin they have three days afterwards to correct it. For example, if photo ID were in place, we would be issuing provisional ballots. We have a very low number of provisional ballots because we have election day registration. As a result, you can correct the problem. If your name is not on the list and you have the proper identifying document that shows that you are who you say you are and that you're a current resident at that address, you can vote. You get to fill out a registration form and redo that. That's really what drives our provisional ballots very low in Wisconsin.

Frederica Freyberg:

Is Wisconsin among few states that have that kind of same-day registration?

Kevin Kennedy:

We've had it since 1976. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Maine were the original pioneers on that. Now there's about nine states that have it.

Frederica Freyberg:

The other place that Wisconsin ranks high is in voter turnout, and as you say, registration. But in addition to resulting in kind of low numbers of provisional ballots, how much does same- day registration boost turnout?

Kevin Kennedy:

The studies have shown it boosts it only slightly. A lot of it really is what the voters bring to the polls. We have a very engaged electorate. Wisconsin and Minnesota rank first and second in all the presidential elections. It really has a lot to do with our voters. They care about the process. They make an effort. Both states are over 70% turnout, with a national average, you know, it ranges between 50% and 60% turnout. It helps to be a state that is purple, closely contested, because it means people know that how they vote is going to have an impact on the outcome.

Frederica Freyberg:                

One place where Wisconsin didn't rank as well, and I'm sorry to bring this up, but we ranked 48th nationally for nonvoting on the part of disabled or people who were ill. So what's your reaction to that and what can we do about it?

Kevin Kennedy:

Well, it's a self-reporting number, so it's not as quite a statistically valid number, but what it does do, is it tells us an area where we have to do more to reach out to people with disabilities. We have been on the cutting edge as far as not only making sure our polling places are accessible, but constantly monitoring them. We send a team out, and we are recognized nationally for the efforts there. But, you know, individuals with disabilities often are isolated from society, and you have to find ways to get them engaged. We do have a disability advisory board, and we'll be talking to them about these numbers in particular, how can we do more to engage those folks, get them, and let them know how they can get access to the ballot box.

Frederica Freyberg:

Would that ever be the GAB's responsibility at all, to help people get to the polls? Or is it simply the polls themselves?

Kevin Kennedy:

Well, the polls is a statutory requirement, both at the state and federal level, and it's often one of the big challenges and requires to be monitored. With 3,000 polling places in the state, you want to stay on top of those. But as far as individuals, we don't get people to the polls, but you try to make sure that you're serving the voters, making sure that they have access to information. The lookup tools we have online to help people with their registration status, what ballot looks like, how they can get an absentee ballot, those are the kinds of things that you want to spread the information on.

Frederica Freyberg:

On a separate topic related to the Government Accountability Board, what response do you have to the undercover video released this week of a state senator describing his desire to coordinate with a political action committee?

Kevin Kennedy:

Well, you would hope that all of our candidates, elected or wanting to be elected, would know what the rules are. That's the important thing. It's disappointing to see that kind of discussion, particularly someone who has been active in the campaign finance arena. It is something that we would expect candidates would have an awareness of.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right, Kevin Kennedy, thanks very much.

Kevin Kennedy:

You're welcome. 


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