Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacker? Wurzebacher? Wurzelbacher?

October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber appeared in last night's debate as a symbol of Ohio's "everyman." He is also now a symbol of the "everyman" whose name is misspelled in government databases. Or, for voter-fraud enthusiasts, an example of yet another type of voter who should be challenged or removed from the rolls.

After his debut on the national stage as a skeptical swing voter, reporters checking up on Joe could not find his voter registration record. That's because his last name, Wurzelbacher, is misspelled in state databases.

According to the latest ruling from Ohio, the 200,000 newly registered voters whose names do not match government databases will have their names turned over to local election officials, where they will be at risk of being illegally removed from registration lists, or challenged at the polls on Election Day.

These 200,000 voters make up one third of all of Ohio's new registrations since January.

Normally, when new registrants' information does not match, the state takes further steps to verify them and correct errors. This ruling bypasses that process and delivers lists of mis-matches directly to local elections offices. According to today's New York Times, "[o]nce the local officials have the names, they may require these voters to cast provisional ballots rather than regular ones, and they may ask partisan poll workers to challenge these voters on Election Day."

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court.

Fortunately, Joe has voted before, so his registration appears not to be at risk. But for the 200,000 others, these data-entry errors could mean they may face major challenges on Election Day.