DA: 17-year-olds who voted in Dane County primary facing discipline

3 others still under investigation
DA: 17-year-olds who voted in Dane County primary facing discipline

Officials are investigating reports of several 17-year-olds who voted illegally during the 2016 presidential primary election, the Dane County district attorney said.

Ismael Ozanne told News 3 that his office has sent four cases of illegal teen voting to deferred prosecution and three other cases are in various stages of investigation.

Wisconsin Election Commission Chairman Mark Thomsen told the panel during a meeting Tuesday that Bernie Sanders’ campaign blurred the laws between the states in its social media and Sanders should take responsibility for it.

A commission report found dozens of 17-year-olds voted illegally in Wisconsin’s presidential primary last spring.

Ozanne said Tuesday that he’s taking the reports of voter fraud in the county seriously.

“The integrity of our system and elections is paramount,” Ozanne said. “I don’t think we should be flippant about the process. We have worked with our clerk, we have worked with anyone that we believe may have been involved in discussions to make sure they are sharing accurate information.”

Commission officials say messages on social media from the Bernie Sanders campaign during the primary season said 17-year-olds could vote in some states if they turned 18 by the November election. A voter must be 18 to cast a ballot in any Wisconsin election.

The Sanders campaign didn’t respond to an email message.

“The argument is, I can vote because I’ll be 18 at the November presidential election, (so) I should be able to vote for that presidential candidate in the primary,” said Michael Haas, Elections Commission administrator.

The commission believes there was either miscommunication or a lack of education that now puts dozens of adolescents in a tough situation.

“My concern is that I certainly don’t want a bunch of 17-year-olds ending up with a criminal record just because they wanted to participate,” Commissioner Mark Thomsen said.

The report shows 30 different counties were affected by these voter fraud cases. It is up to county officials to decide how they will handle each case. Going forward, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said focusing education efforts at the high school level could be beneficial.

“I take voting equipment to elementary schools and let the kids vote on them so they can see how it works. I always wondered (if) the high schoolers aren’t going to want to play with voting machines, but maybe they need that,” McDonell said.

He also believes educating poll workers would help keep the issue from happen. Haas said they were also a reason 17-year-olds found a way to vote.

“Frankly, we heard that some of these 17-year-olds were intimidating for the poll workers and they insisted they had the right to vote, and some of the election inspectors basically gave into that argument,” Haas said.