Marquette students admit they voted more than once

Wendy Weiskircher

The nation’s attention was diverted from Florida to a Wisconsin campus, where state Republican leaders have accused college students of voter fraud in the presidential election.

Unofficial Wisconsin results show Democratic candidate Al Gore with a 6,000-vote lead over Republican candidate George W. Bush, but GOP leaders in the state charged University of Marquette students with voter fraud in a press conference Nov. 10. The charges are being investigated by Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann.

After the charges were made, the Marquette Tribune, the semiweekly student newspaper, conducted an informal canvass of Marquette students by telephone Sunday and Monday, said Michael McGraw, who headed the canvass. Of the 1,000 students polled, the Tribune staff tallied 174 voters who cast more than one ballot in the Nov. 7 presidential election, he said.

“We had been hearing rumors from students that it had happened, and the state Republican Party held a press conference Friday and accused students of [fraud],” said McGraw, metro news desk editor at the Tribune who headed the canvass. “So, we looked into it.”

The results were amusing and alarming, said Tribune assistant news editor Brian Sharkey, who assisted in the coverage.

According to Tuesday’s Tribune, 91 students had voted by absentee ballot in their home states and then again in Wisconsin. Within the state, 44 students voted twice, 26 students voted three times and 13 students cast four or more ballots.

Students reported voting for cartoon characters, family members, friends and themselves after they cast their initial vote for the man they wanted to succeed Bill Clinton in the presidency.

McGraw said most students probably knew voting more than once was illegal, but not to the extent of a felony offense, which is punishable by a maximum three-year jail sentence, a $10,000 fine or both, according to the Wisconsin State Election Commission.

“I think they knew what they were doing was wrong, but to the extent that they could be punished — I don’t think they were aware of that,” said McGraw, sophomore in journalism.

Sharkey said the students slipped their multiple votes through due to the mass confusion at the Memorial Union poll and the Wisconsin registration policy.

“I spent about two hours at the Union polling station, talking to students about how the poll judges and the whole system and everything was unorganized,” said Sharkey, senior in journalism. “For a lot of students, this was their first time voting, and they didn’t know where to go for help.”

He also pinpointed the same-day registration policy in Wisconsin, which allowed students to register at the same polling location several times.

“You can register at the polls on election day, so students seemed to be able to register at one place and then go to another place or just go through the same line,” Sharkey said. “There were no computerized records of the new registrations.”

However, McGraw defended the same-day registration policy.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “I’d much rather have people out voting than staying at home because they forgot to register. The reason this was allowed to happen was the election judges got overwhelmed and they couldn’t enforce the existing policies.”

Iowa officials said a similar occurrence of voter fraud in Iowa is unlikely because of the mandatory prior registration. For general elections, voters must be registered 10 days before the election, said Lynn Scarlett, deputy auditor of elections for Story County.

Although voters are not required to show identification when they vote, “we do have a roster that lists all the registered voters in the precinct and a countywide list of all registered voters in the county,” she said.

If voters are not listed in the county files, they must file a special ballot, which may or may not count in the county totals, Scarlett said.

Eric Baker, spokesman for the Secretary of State Office, said the office has not encountered problems with the policy.

“They can ask for your address to confirm you are from that precinct, and you can cast a contested ballot if you are not on the list,” he said. “But no problems have been brought to our attention.”

Sharkey, who supports mandatory advance registration, said he is concerned the allegations will have negative repercussions on Marquette.

“I really wish it didn’t happen — it could end up hurting Marquette in some way,” he said. “If the election wasn’t as close as it is, some students voting three or four times wouldn’t have mattered. I think students were just trying to press the limits.”