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Wisconsin GOP Try To Retake State Senate, Hyping 'Fraud' By Young Voters

Wisconsin's political drama continues, as top GOP donors accuse young voters of fraud amid a state senate recount.

Although Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker survived his June 5 recall election, Democrats won control of the senate when John Lehman (D) prevailed over incumbent Sen. Van Wanggaard (R) by a 1.2% margin. But as the Center for Media and Democracy predicted, Wisconsin Republicans are raising the spectre of "voter fraud" to cast doubt on Lehman's victory and justify Wanggaard's request for a recount -- which could return control of the Senate to Republicans.

Lack of Voter ID Blamed for "Fraud" Allegations

"In the absence of a voter ID law and so many people suspicious of the election result, bitterness and division will only grow if the results are not recounted," said Wanggaard in a June 15 press release announcing his recount request. 

The vote canvass showed Wanggaard lost to Democrat John Lehman by 834 votes out of 72,000 cast.

"Unfortunately, a portion of it was fraud," asserted Rep. Robin Vos on the Sunday morning political talk show UpFront With Mike Gousha. "You can say that with certainty?" asked Gousha. "I can, a portion," replied Vos. "Yeah, I do believe that." Vos did not define what counts as "a portion."

In addition to alleging “there was no double checking to make sure that people even resided for 28 days," Vos said that "you have to have some sort of ID in my mind. I think that was another thing that led to the potential for fraud."

In March, a Wisconsin judge struck down the state's new voter ID restriction as imposing unconstitutional burdens on the right to vote. An estimated 220,000 eligible voters in Wisconsin do not have the forms of identification required under the voter ID law (but they do have other documents proving their identity and residency). Many of those without the required ID are college students, people of color, and the elderly -- populations that tend to vote for Democrats.

Vos, the chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the state, spearheaded the effort to pass the bill in 2011, which reflects key elements of the ALEC "model" Voter ID Act.

Selective Vote Fraud Hysteria

Prior to the June 5 election, with pundits on both sides predicting the recall election would be tight, GOP leaders and right-wing media also stoked fears of voter fraud to cast doubt on any potential Democratic victories. They did so in part by complaining that the restrictive voter ID law had been enjoined.

Walker and three Republican senators survived their recall elections, and none on the right questioned the legitimacy of their victories.

It was a different story for Wanggaard. In the days after the race was called for Lehman, the MacIver Institute was running stories claiming there were "curious election documents found in dumpster" outside of a polling place in Wanggaard's district, and raising concerns that a minority of poll workers in the area had signed recall petitions.

The right-wing group called "Media Trackers" also ran stories hyping allegations of fraud in Wanggaard's district of Racine. A major allegation was that election officials allowed a voter to register with improper proof of residency, despite challenges from Lou D'Abbraccio, who the group identified as "an election observer working with conservative local groups." Media Trackers did not disclose that D'Abbraccio, who supporters say "can be loud as hell when he needs to be," is on the Board of the Racine County Republican Party and runs the Racine GOP poll watching program.

D'Abbraccio was also the subject of a 2010 Nation Magazine article titled "Inside the Wisconsin Right's Voter-Suppression Scheme," which documented his efforts to train election observers by "continually elaborat[ing] on and reinforc[ing] the impression that rampant fraud by “leftist” groups threatened the integrity of the election." The Nation reported that D'Abbraccio described the role of election observers "to report such fraud to party officials and to challenge the eligibility of voters they suspected of fraud." Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice suggested that actors like D'Abbraccio, who promote a climate of "misinformation and fear" about voter fraud, "are more likely to cross lines" into voter suppression. "That's a problem," she said.