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Voters confused by group’s inaccurate voter registration text messages

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Sean Burke has gotten used to the unsolicited political text messages. Most of the time, the messages ask for his support in voting for a particular candidate. However, a message he received from a group called Field Team 6 was different from the rest.

"This one had said, 'hey, your name has been taken off the voter rolls,'' Burke said. "That scared me considering last presidential election, I worked here in Sun Prairie at the polls as a temporary employee for several months."

The message to Burke matches the language in other text messages viewers have shared with 27 News. The messages claim "it looks like Wisconsin has taken someone by your name off the voter rolls." The message then offers to help the recipient re-register to vote in order to "save the world from (President) Trump."

"The first thought that came into my mind was there's something shady going on," Burke said. "I'm a very conscious voter. Because of the pandemic, I decided I was gonna set up absentee voting for the rest of the year."

Burke said he went to check his registration status at myvote.wi.gov and discovered he was still registered and his status had never changed.

"I've actually taken at least one call and I've heard a couple other clerks have gotten the calls on those text messages," said Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson.

Tollefson said in the case of a voter who called her office, that voter had also experienced no changes to their voter registration status.

"I actually went through their list and they've always voted and there's no reason they're not on the list," Tollefson said.

Tollefson said political groups are able to buy voter lists from the Wisconsin Elections Commission. She said groups will sometimes use a list that is several years old or will try to cross-check the list with consumer data lists.

Tollefson said when clerks update the registration status of a voter, perhaps because they moved, it involved merging two voter profiles, which could explain why the group thinks someone may have been purged from the rolls.

"Sometimes, when you compare two lists, there might be a duplicate and we merge them and so it looks like one's being taken off the list when they're not, we're just merging their records," Tollefson said. "Sometimes, when people move, their record, they have their old list of how they voted, their voter participation and the new, and merge them so it looks like one disappeared when it didn't."

Field Team 6 describes itself as a grassroots organization seeking to register Democrats. The group did not return messages from 27 News.

Burke said, even if the group has good intentions, actions that confuse voters are especially problematic during an election where there is already uncertainty about poll locations and ways to obtain and drop off an absentee ballot.

"I started realizing if I'm getting this in a random text, then I'm guessing a lot of people are getting this," Burke said. "And people are very influenced by their phones and what they get on their phones and they get nervous, especially when it comes to voting."

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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