Skip Navigation

If Joe the Plumber Were a New Voter, Ohio Ruling Could Block Him from Voting

It appears Joe’s name is misspelled in state databases. And due to a recent court ruling, he would be purged from voter rolls had he registered this year.

October 16, 2008

For Immediate Release

Contact: Susan Lehman 212–998–6318

Brennan Center: If Joe the Plumber Was a New Voter, Ohio Ruling Could Block Him from Voting

New York – We heard a lot last night about Joe the Plumber, but did you know that a recent court ruling last night threatens the ability of thousands like Joe to have their votes counted? According to today’s Toledo Blade, he is Joe Wurzelbacher of Shrewsbury Street in Springfield Township in Lucas County, Ohio.

As the Blade notes, many thought Joe was not a registered voter. Turns out there was likely a misspelling in the Lucas County Board of Elections database. From the Blade: “Linda Howe, executive director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, said a Samuel Joseph Worzelbacher, whose address and age match Joe the Plumber’s, registered in Lucas County on Sept. 10, 1992. He voted in his first primary on March 4, 2008, registering as a Republican. Ms. Howe said that the name may be misspelled in the database.”

Politico's Ben Smith makes the connection that if Joe registered this year, he could be purged from the rolls under a 6th Circuit Court ruling on Tuesday.

That’s because on Tuesday, following a lawsuit by the Ohio republican party, the court ordered Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to disclose to local election officials the names of 200,000 new registrants whose names didn’t match with state motor vehicle or federal Social Security databases. This list could be used by local election officials and party operatives to prevent these voters from casting ballots that will count. As Secretary Brunner knows and the Brennan Center demonstrated in the brief, almost all mis-matches are the result of typos and administrative errors—like in Joe’s case.

The Brennan Center is urging Ohio’s election officials to take immediate steps to ensure that a failed match standing alone does not result in a voter being purged from the voter rolls, challenged at the polls, or forced to cast a provisional ballot that may not be counted.

Secretary Brunner is vigorously opposing this ruling and has asked the Supreme Court to block it.

“To save tens of thousands like Joe from disenfranchisement by typo, Ohio election officials need to make clear that no voter will be denied registration, removed from the voter rolls, challenged at the polls or relegated to voting a provisional ballot solely because of a failed computer match, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the voter is not eligible,” said Wendy Weiser, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center and author of Making the List, a study of the perils of voter database matching.

The unreliability of the matching process has been repeatedly proved. After Florida implemented new matching rules on September 8th of this year, approximately 15% of all attempted matches failed; upon investigation, the vast majority of these failed matches have since been determined to be the result of typos and similar errors. A detailed audit of failed matches in New York City in September 2004 similarly found that more than 80% of failed matches were caused by errors by election officials in processing voters’ applications-almost all the others were caused by immaterial mistakes by voters, like writing their drivers license number in the Social Security field. Across the country, match failure rates have ranged from 15%–30%. In Ohio, there were more than 200,000 failed matches out of 660,000 voter registrations this year.

“Both candidates went out of their way for Joe the Plumber last night. The least Ohio can do is make sure that Joe and people like him are able to vote and have their votes counted,” concluded Weiser.

“One purported remedy, voting with a provisional ballot, is no remedy at all. A very high proportion are not counted. Worse, forcing tens of thousands of Ohio voters to cast provisional ballots will create needless chaos at the polling place on Election Day,” said Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Brennan Center.

“Joe the Plumber is not committing voter fraud, and neither are the hundreds of thousands of other voters who would be kicked off by this misguided effort to suppress the vote,” said Waldman.

Brennan Center on the web: