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Wisconsin OKs voter registration mailings beginning this month

Wisconsin election officials approved mailing postcards to more than a million people telling them how to register to vote, marking the largest mailing outreach effort they’ve ever attempted.

The state Elections Commission had no choice but to launch the project.

Legislators passed a law earlier this year requiring Wisconsin to join a multi-state consortium called the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, which works to identify eligible voters who haven’t registered.

Twenty states make up the group, including Minnesota and Illinois.

The consortium requires members to reach out to eligible people who may not be registered every two years before Oct. 1. Commission staff told members in late August that ERIC will supply a list of those who haven’t registered by matching state registration records with lists of driver’s license and state-issued photo ID holders.

The staff then plans to send those people a postcard telling them how to register.

ERIC has told the commission to expect to mail out 1 million to 1.5 million cards based on experiences in other states, an estimate that seems to dovetail with Wisconsin’s demographics.

Census data show about 4.4 million people of voting age here; of those, about 3.4 million are registered voters, WEC spokesman Reid Magney said.

The project is the largest mailing state election officials have ever undertaken.

The next largest was 70,000 letters the commission’s predecessor agency, the Government Accountability Board, sent out in 2009 to double-check registration data, Magney said.

The ERIC mailing is expected to cost about $260,000. Up to half of the cost will be funded with a grant of up to $150,000 from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Federal dollars will cover remaining costs.

The commission expects to begin the mailings in late September.

Commission members approved the mailing effort unanimously after debating whether to include a notification on the postcards that voters must show photo IDs at the polls. The panel scrapped the idea after the commission’s attorney, Nathan Judnic, argued that too much information on the card could muddle the registration message and Commissioner Julie Glancey pointed out the mailings are going to people who already have photo IDs.

The commission plans to begin the mailings in late September, giving recipients several weeks to take action before open registration ends on Oct. 19.

People can still register at the polls on Election Day, which falls on Nov. 8.

The commission also voted unanimously to contract with a Milwaukee call center to field calls from confused postcard recipients.

Magney said operators will provide 24-hour service and work from a script that commission staff prepares.

The cost is unclear.

The center charges 61.5 cents per minute spent on the phone, so total costs will depend on the number and length of calls.

Magney said the commission will pay the center with federal Help America Vote Act dollars.

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