The State Journal’s Footnote will try to explain the often heard, but perhaps not widely understood, phrases, ideas and controversies in the news. It runs weekly.

Q Among the bills not passed during the last days of the state’s legislative session last week was the Wisconsin Voter Protection Act, whose Democratic backers said would have made it easier to register and vote and whose Republican detractors said would have encouraged voter fraud. How much voter fraud is there in Wisconsin?

A Documented cases of fraud — such as voting under a different name, voting by felons and voting more than once — are rare, according to Reid Magney, spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin elections.

A survey by the GAB of the state’s district attorneys following the November 2008 presidential election found there were 63 fraud complaints in 14 counties during the election. Thirty-two of the complaints were in Milwaukee County, and 22 counties reported receiving no complaints, the survey found.

Approximately 2.9 million votes were cast for president in the state.

As of March 2009, only seven of those complaints were still under investigation and six had gone to court. Of those six, one resulted in a felony conviction and the rest were still pending.

“Our experience has been that there are relatively few cases of voter fraud in Wisconsin,” Magney said. He said the GAB regularly performs registration checks to scrub convicted felons and dead people from the voter rolls, and takes other actions in an attempt to keep those not eligible to vote from voting.

State Republican Party executive director Mark Jefferson contends that there are far more instances of voter fraud than reflected in the GAB’s numbers.

“I think that’s not reliable because you can’t be everywhere,” he said. “And we clearly have election officials who are not concerned and want to downplay voter fraud,”

But Jefferson said Republicans do not have the resources to do their own estimate of the extent of voter fraud in Wisconsin.

— Chris Rickert

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