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The balance of power in the state Senate is poised to flip from Republicans to Democrats after voters in the 21st Senate District chose Democrat John Lehman over first-term Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine.
Lehman’s margin of victory -- 819 votes out of 71,897 cast -- was confirmed July 2, 2012 after a recount. Lehman’s victory gives Senate Democrats a 17-16 seat majority -- at least until the November elections.
In the days following the vote, Republican leaders noted that Wangaard received 49.4 percent of the votes cast in the Senate district, while Republican Gov. Scott Walker racked up 51.04 percent. (The results showed that Wanggaard received 2,689 fewer votes than Walker, while Lehman got 310 fewer votes than Barrett suggesting that Democrats were more prone to vote for their party’s Senate candidate than the Republicans in that election.)
The Wanggaard campaign is considering a court challenge based on issues found during the recount. The problems identified included a variety of complaints from poll workers and election materials that were found in a garbage bin.
The idea that the election results were tainted was advanced most aggressively by state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, whose Assembly district is part of the 21st Senate District. He offered his views June 17, 2012 on WISN-TV (Channel 12) "Upfront with Mike Gousha."
"Unfortunately, a portion of (the vote) was fraud," Vos said, adding "I’m not sure the entire 800 vote margin was..."
Gousha interrupted and asked Vos if he could make the statement about fraud "with certainty."
"I can, a portion," Vos said. "Yeah, I do believe that."
When we asked Vos to back up his claim, he noted that the Racine County Sheriff’s Department is investigating two election-related issues -- election registration documents found in a dumpster, and complaints by a poll worker at one polling place. And he said he heard second hand that someone tried to use a Bed Bath and Beyond mailer as proof of address.
"Is that fraud? I don’t know. It isn’t right and it seems fraudulent," he said. "You tell me how that’s not a fraudulent vote."
"I did not personally witness any voter fraud," Vos said. "But some portion of what happened could be classified as fraud."
We’re on thin ice already. He told us that there "could" be fraud involved in the vote. Yet Vos told Gousha and "Upfront" viewers that he could say with "certainty" that there was voter fraud. He offers no specific examples, other than the fact that the sheriff’s department is looking into election-related complaints.
"We’re looking at a whole bunch of reports," Sheriff’s Department Lt. Steve Sikora told us. "It’s not voter fraud, it’s irregularities."
Sikora said that once the reports were completed, the department would turn its findings over to the Racine County clerk and the district attorney’s office, since there has been so much public interest in it. As of July 3, 2012, no case has been turned over for prosecution of voter fraud.
Because it was expected to be a tight race, the election was monitored by a large number of poll watchers from both political parties.
And there have been claims of problems from both sides. Democrats and Racine Mayor John Dickert have complained that Republican poll-watchers broke the rules and intimidated voters.
Meanwhile, the Mount Pleasant Patch.com site and the Racine Journal Times have reported that there were problems with voters who registered on the day of the election allegedly not signing poll books.
However, the Journal Times reported June 26, 2012, that the book signing issue was considered an administrative mistake by the state Government Accountability Board and that the votes would be counted.
GAB spokesman Reid Magney said that it was up to local law enforcement to determine if there were any violations of state election law.
Regardless, none of these incidents -- at least so far -- appears to fall into the category of voter fraud. And certainly there has been no evidence that voting irregularities were significant enough to tilt the balance in Lehman’s favor.
Conservative blogger Christian Schneider noted this in a June 26, 2012, post on his blog The Yankee Review, published on JSOnline.com.
"The fact that new registrants were not required to sign log books isn't in itself proof of vote fraud. If one were dedicated enough to get on a bus and head down to cast a fraudulent vote, presumably they wouldn't have a problem scratching out an illegible signature on a log book."
Even Wanggaard, in a July 2, 2012, statement issued after the recall was completed, stopped short of declaring that it was fraud: "Anyone who argues that this recount was a waste of time, or that we do not need voter ID, either wants to conceal these potential fraudulent activities or hasn’t been paying attention."
Wanggaard campaign counsel Jonathan Strasburg went a bit further, saying the recount revealed that election officials "used procedures that would make Fidel Castro blush."
In the run-up to the June 5, 2012, recall, we examined a statement from Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who said that because of voter fraud, GOP candidates "need to do a point or two better" to win statewide elections in Wisconsin.
Although past reports have found flaws, including cases of fraudulent voting in the city of Milwaukee, Priebus didn’t provide any information to support the specifics of his claim or the percentages cited. That’s one of our principles: It’s incumbent upon those making claims to be able to support them. We rated Priebus’ claim False.
Vos said voter fraud provided "a portion" of the difference in Wanggaard’s loss in a critical state Senate recall election.
The Racine County Sheriff’s Department is investigating issues regarding election procedures and paperwork, but a top official told us they do not suspect fraud. What’s more, Vos acknowledges he has no direct evidence of fraud.
Yet he said with "certainty" that there was fraud. Based on the information publicly available now, we rate his claim False.
"Upfront with Mike Gousha" , WISN-TV (Channel 12) June 17, 2012
Telephone interveiw, Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), June 21, 2012
PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Because of voter fraud Republican candidates ‘need to do a point or two better’ to win statewide elections in Wisconsin," May 31, 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Protests over Racine vote point to statewide confusion," June 18, 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Yankee Review blog, Christian Schneider, June 26, 2012
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Recount affirms Lehman’s win in Senate recall race," July 2, 2012
Racine Journal Times
Interviews, Lt. Steve Sikora, Racine County Sheriff’s Department, June 20, July 3, 2012
Interview Reid Magney, spokesman, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, June 26, 2012
WTMJ-TV (Channel 4), "Racine County Sheriff’s Department looking into possible voting irregularities," June 14, 2012
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