Misinformation Is Spreading About Wisconsin’s Election. Here Are The Facts

Elections Commission Head Explains Voter Registration, Turnout Facts

a woman in a face mask puts her hands on a stack of ballots
A worker at Milwaukee’s Central Count facility puts envelopes in a machine that opens them Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Angela Major/WPR

Misinformation about the U.S. presidential election is spreading online, including some false claims about registered voters and voter turnout in Wisconsin.

On a call with reporters on Thursday, Wisconsin Elections Commission head Meagan Wolfe directly addressed some of the misinformation.

“Wisconsin’s election was conducted according to law and in the open,” Wolfe said. “Unfortunately, we are seeing a lot of misinformation on social media and some news media. If something you see or hear about how Wisconsin voted sounds outrageous, it’s probably false.”

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Here are the facts.

False Claim #1: There were more votes in Wisconsin than registered voters.

In a now-deleted tweet, conservative commentator Mike Coudrey claimed, “Wisconsin has more votes than people who are registered to vote.”

Coudrey claimed 3,129,000 people were registered to vote in Wisconsin and that 3,239,920 people voted in the presidential election.

This is a false statement.

The most important thing to note is that Wisconsin allows people to register to vote on Election Day so any statistic on the number of registered voters in the state is immediately outdated as soon as polls open.

But even before polls opened, the number cited by Coudrey was low. The Wisconsin Elections Commission reported there were 3,684,726 active registered voters in the state as of Nov. 1.

According to unofficial totals from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, 3,296,374 people cast ballots in this election. Information about how many people registered to vote on Election Day isn’t available yet.

According to the Elections Commission, state law gives each of the state’s 1,850 local election officials 45 days to enter voter turnout and new registration data into the statewide voter information system. After the 45 days, the Elections Commission is required to post election statistics, like the number of Election Day registrations, to the public.

False Claim #2: Voter turnout in Wisconsin was 89 percent.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s son, Eric Trump, shared a tweet from Republican political consultant Harlan Hill that suggested voter turnout was 89 percent in Wisconsin, a substantial increase from previous years.

The 89 percent turnout figure is false.

The figure is the result of dividing the number of ballots cast in this election in Wisconsin (3,296,374) by the number of registered voters in Wisconsin on Nov. 1 (3,684,726).

That percentage isn’t an accurate measure of turnout, because new voters can register on Election Day in Wisconsin. It also doesn’t use the formula used by the Wisconsin Elections Commission to calculate election turnout in previous years, so comparisons to previous years’ reported turnout wouldn’t be valid.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission uses the estimated voting age population (4,536,417 as of Nov. 5) as the denominator when calculating statewide voter turnout numbers.

Using that formula, the Elections Commission reports 73 percent turnout in this election.

That turnout figure is high, but not unprecedented. Turnout was 67 percent in 2016; 70 percent in 2012; 69 percent in 2008; and 73 percent in 2004.