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No, there weren’t 23,203 registered voters in Wisconsin with the same phone number during the 2020 election

The phone number appeared on thousands of Racine County inactive voter registration records after a system upgrade, and most of those weren’t eligible to vote.
Credit: AP
In this Nov. 3, 2020, photo, voters wait in line outside a polling center on Election Day, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, though some people have long claimed that former President Donald Trump actually won the election, and his win wasn’t recognized because of voter fraud.

In connection with that theory, a meme recently began recirculating on Twitter with thousands of retweets and likes that claims there were more than 23,203 registered voters in Racine County, Wisconsin, that have the same phone number, leading many to suspect some sort of foul play. 

This claim dates back to at least November 2021 when The Gateway Pundit ran a story alleging the more than 23,203 registered voters that have the same phone number is proof of voter fraud because Biden won Wisconsin by only 20,000 votes. 

In Racine County, Trump beat Biden by about 4 points, but Biden won the state of Wisconsin by a less-than 1 point margin, according to certified election results.

THE QUESTION

During the 2020 election, were there 23,203 Racine County, Wisconsin voters registered with the same phone number? 

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, during the 2020 election there were not 23,203 Racine County, Wisconsin voters registered with the same phone number. Most of those people who appeared to have the same phone number weren’t eligible to vote.

WHAT WE FOUND

There were thousands of people in the voter registration database that did appear to have the same phone number, but not because they were fake voters. It’s because of a system upgrade to the voter registration system, John Smalley, the public information officer for the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) told VERIFY. The system was upgraded 14 years before the 2020 election.

The WEC includes an explanation as to why there are repeated phone numbers on the voter rolls on the frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) page of their website, Smalley said.

Prior to 2005, municipalities with more than 5,000 people were required to keep track of voter registrations, either in their own database or spreadsheet. In 2006, the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS), now known as WisVote, was launched and the data from all municipalities was merged into a centralized system, as mandated by federal law

For Racine County voters with names in the database, a default phone number was inputted as a placeholder for people who didn't provide one when registering to vote. 

A large majority of those names in the voter database that had the same phone number were voters who had been inactive for many years, the WEC says. An inactive voter is ineligible to vote. 

When someone is marked as inactive on the state’s registered voter list, they would need to register again before becoming eligible to vote.

According to the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the state of Wisconsin sends mailers to voters in order to keep them on the active voter registry; if someone fails to respond or doesn’t have any registration activity, they become inactive. 

Other reasons someone may be considered an inactive voter include:

  • Failure to participate in an election in four years
  • Change in residence
  • Deceased
  • Committed a felony 

Active registered voters, appear on pollbooks, and can cast a ballot in statewide elections. Inactive voters are not registered to vote, do not appear on pollbooks, and cannot cast a ballot in Wisconsin elections, unless they re-register to vote.

Smalley said because the phone number appeared next to inactive voters, those people would not have participated in the 2020 election because they weren’t registered to vote in the first place. 

So why are the inactive names still in the system? WEC says the state of Wisconsin doesn’t delete ineligible voters from the voter registration database because if they do, there would be no registration history, no participation history, and no history of why a record became ineligible.

The county elections clerk is responsible for updating the voter records, Smalley told VERIFY, and voter records are cleaned up “one voter at a time.” If a person makes changes to their voter registration with the county clerk, then the placeholder phone number could be replaced, though it is not a requirement.

Phone numbers aren’t required as part of a voter record or as part of voter registration, and a phone number has no bearing on a voter’s eligibility, WEC says.

There could still be active, or eligible, voters in Racine County with the placeholder phone number still next to their name. When the FAQ was posted to the WEC website, there were 384 active voters in the registration database with the placeholder number. Smalley said at the time of this publication, there could be less than that.

WisVote can only be accessed by authorized users with security training, so VERIFY could not independently confirm the actual number of people in Racine with the same placeholder phone number attached to their voter record. VERIFY reached out to Racine County but did not hear back at the time of publication.

   

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