Following a state task force investigation into a number of Wisconsin counties’ 2008 presidential election ballots, 20 Wisconsinites have been charged with committing election fraud.

The charges come in the midst of a legislative debate about a proposed bill requiring residents to show photo identification to vote at the polls.

Investigations of voter fraud in the 2008 election began in July 2008 when Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm first formed the Election Fraud Task Force, according to a Department of Justice statement.

The task force set out to ensure there was free and unfettered access to the ballot and to make certain that each vote cast was properly counted, Chisholm said in a statement.
Chisholm added the process needs to be free from the influence of partisan politics, whether real or perceived.

The DOJ and Milwaukee County prosecutors charged 11 felons for voting, six people for voter registration misconduct and two people for voting twice, according to a DOJ statement.

Authorities also charged a Milwaukee County man after he acquired a ballot in his late-wife’s name so he could “fulfill her dying wish” to vote for Obama, according to the statement.

Twelve of the individuals charged came from Milwaukee County, while the rest came from throughout the state, according to the statement.

Though the task force originally focused on Milwaukee County, Van Hollen expanded the task force in 2010 to include an additional 11 counties, including Dane County, according to a DOJ statement.

“Law enforcement that works together works better,” Van Hollen said in the DOJ statement.

Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, who joined the task force in July 2010, said in the DOJ statement that as long as Wisconsin fails to enact voter identification, prosecutors will not be able to enforce election laws.

While some proponents of the Wisconsin Voter ID bill may argue these recent voter fraud charges prove the need for a stricter voting requirement, Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, disagrees.

“It sounds to me like our system is working,” Parisi said. “The few people who commit voter fraud out of the millions of voters are being caught and brought to justice.”

David Canon, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, said the bill would do little to counter the many types of voter fraud that the election task force has found.

“It would not prevent felons or non-citizens from voting,” Canon said. “The only type of fraud it will catch is impersonators.”

Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said election fraud usually occurs at the individual level as opposed to a systematic and organized attempt at rigging an election.

Heck said he predicts that as more people learn about the bill, they will be less inclined to support it.

“This is the worst piece of legislative crap I have ever seen in my thirty years of working with the Legislature,” Heck said.

Even though the bill may do little to combat voter fraud, Canon said that after talking with legislators, he is certain the bill will become law.

Canon said the bill is moving through the Legislature quickly, and recent charges of voter fraud cannot make it move any faster than it already is.

“The only question that remains is what form it will take, not whether or not it will pass,” Canon said.