State News

Report: 17-year-olds voted illegally in Dane County and across Wisconsin during 2016 primary

In the Wisconsin State Superintendent race, two-term incumbent Tony Evers will face former Beloit and Whitnall superintendent Lowell Holtz.

Dozens of Wisconsin teenagers cast ballots in the state’s 2016 primary election, even though they were only 17 years old and not eligible to vote, according to a new report.

The report, based on research carried out by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, found at least 60 17-year-olds voted in the election, across 29 counties. The teenagers apparently believed they could vote in the primary if they would turn 18 in time for the November general election.

Dane County referred five 17-year-olds to prosecutors for voting illegally. Kewaunee County referred nine, the most of any county. Rock County referred seven and Racine County also referred five.

The report said the Wisconsin government had received “many calls and inquiries as to whether a 17-year-old who would be 18 years old by the 2016 General Election was eligible to vote in the primary contest,” due to confusion over differing state laws as well as inaccurate social media campaigns.

“The answer is clearly no in Wisconsin, but that is not the case in other states,” the report reads. “Additionally, some of the political campaigns were providing false information to voters and social media spread this false information to students who believed they were eligible to vote.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign sent out information that probably led some 17-year-olds to believe they could vote, commission spokesperson Reid Magney said. However, the commission did not find any evidence of Sanders’ campaign distributing explicitly incorrect information about Wisconsin law.

“We are not blaming the Sanders campaign specifically. We know they were doing some messaging on social media about 17-year-olds being able to vote in some state’s primaries if they would be 18 by Election Day in November,” Magney told The Daily Cardinal. “It is possible that some Wisconsin 17-year-olds saw that and did not understand it did not apply to them.”

Magney said that in order for the illegal voting to take place, some poll workers must have “not realize[d] 17-year-olds cannot vote” or “did not carefully check the voter registration forms.”

Sanders won the Democratic primary, while Texas Senator Ted Cruz took the Republican contest.

The report does not mention any instance of underage voting during the general election.

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