By Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press Writer
Madison, Wis. (AP) - Prosecutors in Minnesota and Wisconsin are investigating dozens of cases in which voters may have illegally cast ballots in both states in the 2008 presidential election. At least two people have been charged so far.
The potential cases of double voting were uncovered by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board under a rare agreement with the Minnesota Secretary of State's office to compare the states' election data for the first time, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
Local officials in both states have been asked or ordered not to destroy the election records.
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As of Aug. 30, the states found 35 cases in which voters listed an identical first, middle and last name and date of birth and were recorded as voting on both sides of the border. Those cases have been sent to local prosecutors in Wisconsin and Minnesota for further investigation and possible prosecution.
In what are believed to be the first cases filed stemming from the investigation, two men from Menomonie, Wis. were charged late last week with election fraud. One was accused of voting in Wisconsin at the polls, and casting an absentee ballot in Lakeville, Minn. The other was accused of voting at precincts in both states.
Voting more than once in an election is a felony in both states.
"I give them credit for taking the issue seriously - it is a serious issue," said state Rep. Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson, who had warned Wisconsin elections officials years ago to keep an eye on the practice.
The number in question is a tiny fraction of the 5.9 million ballots cast in the two states, which both have same-day voter registration. But it represents the first look at a practice that some activists feared was widespread, particularly among thousands of college students who live in one state and go to school in the other.
Several prosecutors' offices said Monday that they are conducting inquiries. Spokesmen for Wisconsin and Minnesota elections officials said some of the cases had been deemed false matches, but they would not say how many.
The Wisconsin board last week ordered local elections officials to retain voter registration forms, absentee ballot applications, poll lists and other documents from the election to help with any voter fraud prosecutions that develop. The Minnesota Secretary of State's office has encouraged county auditors to do the same, spokesman John Aiken said.
In Wisconsin, the most matches, five, were found in Dunn County in western Wisconsin, which is home to the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie. Douglas County, home to UW-Superior, was second with three. Many students from Minnesota attend both schools under the states' tuition reciprocity agreement.
Eleven of the cases were referred to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office in Minnesota.
Michael Haas, a lawyer for the Wisconsin board, cautioned that false matches may have resulted from inadvertent errors by poll workers or clerical errors in voter databases. He said additional investigation has cleared some cases, including a student who was mistakenly recorded as voting in his father's name.
The board formed a team in December to study how to better share data with other states to detect voter fraud. Under Wisconsin law, the state cannot share a voter's date of birth with outside entities. So the board reached an agreement with Minnesota to receive its data and compare the two sets.
The board is trying to reach similar agreements with Illinois, Iowa and Michigan, Haas said. It is unclear how widespread such agreements are among states.
Allegations of voter fraud - despite little hard evidence - have long frustrated Wisconsin elections officials. The board is taking steps to try to collect more data to determine the extent of the problem.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)