Dozens of 17-year-olds voted illegally in 2016 presidential primaries

Photo by Saiyna Bashir, The Capital Times

The state saw at least 60 cases of 17-year-olds voting illegally during the 2016 spring primaries, according to a report the Elections Commission will submit to the Legislature.

Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney said that was a significant increase from prior elections, which had seen only a handful of these cases.

The report, which commissioners will review at their meeting tomorrow, notes some political campaigns “were providing false information” that indicated 17-year-olds could vote in the April primary if they turned 18 by the November general election. Other states let teenage voters do so but “the answer is clearly no in Wisconsin,” the report says.

The report also highlighted other cases of potential voter fraud or irregularities, including at least 16 cases of people voting twice in the same election or felons voting despite being under Department of Corrections supervision. The report looked at anything between June 30, 2016, and Feb. 15, 2017, and includes cases in both the primary and general elections.

Magney attributed the increase in 17-year-olds voting illegally to a “perfect storm” of false information on social media and high interest in the April presidential primaries. Magney said people can register to vote before they’re 18, but cannot vote until they hit that age.

State elections officials flagged potential cases to municipal clerks, who then were told to check the information and forward possible violations to their local district attorney. The Elections Commission material does not detail whether DAs filed charges in those instances or any other cases of voter fraud and irregularities.

David Lasee, the Brown County district attorney, said he’s still reviewing the other types of cases. But for the nine cases of 17-year-olds voting in his county, he decided to press no charges after the sheriff’s office interviewed the students.

Lasee said he didn’t recall dealing with similar issues during the 2012 elections. But he said none of the students intended to commit fraud and even told poll workers that they hadn’t yet turned 18, but poll workers let them vote anyway.

“All of them believed that they were able to vote at that time,” Lasee said.

Some counties had only one instance of 17-year-olds voting but others had several. That includes Kewaunee County’s nine cases, seven cases in Rock County and five in Dane County.

See the report (starts on p. 94): elections.wi.gov/sites/default/files/event/261/tuesday_march_14_2017_complete_meeting_materials__23379.pdf 

SHARE