MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Election Commission chairman on Tuesday blamed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign and poll workers for the dozens of instances in which 17-year-olds managed to vote in Wisconsin’s presidential primary last year.
A commission report found that as many as 70 17-year-olds in nearly 30 Wisconsin counties voted illegally in the April election. Sanders won the Democratic side of the primary; Ted Cruz won the Republican side.
Many states allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 by Election Day to vote in their primaries, but Wisconsin isn’t among them and requires voters to be 18 to vote in its primary.
In its report, the commission determined that social media posts about how some states allow qualifying 17-year-olds to vote in their primaries likely led to confusion and drove the Wisconsin teens to polls. Commission officials said Sanders, specifically, posted on social media about 17-year-olds being able to vote in presidential primaries, though they acknowledged that they didn’t see any misinformation from Sanders about Wisconsin’s laws, specifically.
The teens found to have illegally voted in the primaries were referred to local prosecutors. District attorneys in counties with the most underage voters told The Associated Press they chose not to charge them because they genuinely believed they could vote and didn’t intend to commit fraud.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported Tuesday that Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne reached deferred prosecution agreements in four of the seven cases that were referred to his office. He hasn’t decided whether to charge the remaining three teens. Ozanne didn’t immediately reply to a message from The Associated Press.
Andrea Kaminski, executive director of Wisconsin’s League of Women Voters chapter, told the commission Tuesday that she was “distressed” to read about the 17-year-olds voting, saying voters and poll workers need to be better educated about voting laws.
Commission Chairman Mark Thomson responded by telling her that Sanders’ national campaign “blurred the differences” in states’ laws in its messaging and “the candidate has to have responsibility for those errors.” He didn’t elaborate.
Sanders’ campaign didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking its reaction to Thomsen’s remarks. His campaign enjoyed strong support from young people. Last March he successfully sued Ohio’s top elections official in an attempt to allow 17-year-olds who would turn 18 by the general election to vote in that state’s primary.
Thomsen added that it’s troubling that Wisconsin poll workers allowed the 17-year-olds to vote and the commission will look at training to “make sure we’re not encouraging 17-year-olds to commit crimes.”
Thomsen was appointed to the commission by state Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, a Kenosha Democrat.
Commissioner Ann Jacobs, who was appointed by Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, a La Crosse Democrat, said the social media messaging may have persuaded poll workers that 17-year-olds can vote in Wisconsin. She said the commission needs to push back with accurate information when it sees incorrect information spreading.
President Donald Trump has called for a “major investigation” into voter fraud and alleged, without any evidence, that 3 million to 5 million people may have voted illegally in the November general election. The commission report lists no instances of underage voters casting ballots in Wisconsin’s general election.