Skip Navigation
Expert Brief

Wisconsin, 2004

Published: November 10, 2007

The 2004 election was hotly contested in Wisconsin, and various irregularities led to inflated claims of widespread fraud. At the same time, Wisconsin citizens were debating a proposal to require restrictive identification of each voter at the polls, and the fraud claims were used to support the call for ID. We examined each of the allegations of fraud by individual voters—the only sort that ID could possibly address—to uncover the truth behind the assertions.

The allegations yielded only 7 substantiated cases of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes that counted—all persons with felony convictions. This amounts to a rate of 0.0025% within Milwaukee and  0.0002% within the state as a whole. None of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.

The analysis below examines the allegations of fraud in more detail.

The rate of substantiated fraud:

  • The allegations of fraud related to the 2004 general elections, in which 277,565 votes were cast in Milwaukee, and 2,997,007 votes were cast in all of Wisconsin.
There were 7 substantiated cases of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes that counted—all persons with felony convictions. This amounts to a rate of 0.0025% within Milwaukee and 0.0002% within the state as a whole. None of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.
  • There were 11 substantiated cases of votes cast by ineligible Milwaukee voters—all persons with felony convictions. There are 8 substantiated cases of votes cast by ineligible voters from other parts of the state—2 persons with felony convictions, 1 foreign national, 1 17-year-old voter, and 4 absentee ballots cast by deceased voters. That amounts to a rate of 0.004% within Milwaukee and 0.0006% in the state as a whole. None of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.

  • Even given allegations that were unsubstantiated, the rate of possible fraud remains low. The analysis below lays out the allegations, reasons to question each, and the facts that we now know. But assuming that all 6,877 of the remaining questionable allegations—including 1,150 voter registration cards not processed, 5,356 allegedly flawed addresses, 353 other allegedly ineligible persons with convictions, 8 allegedly double voters (for a total of 16 votes), and 2 votes from the allegedly fictitious individual—in fact represent ineligible votes, that would amount to a rate of 2.2% within Milwaukee and 0.2% within the state as a whole. None of these votes could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.

The allegations:

  • 37,180 people in Milwaukee registered from allegedly invalid addresses, based on an attempt to match voter roll entries to the U.S. Postal Service’s database of street addresses. 1,242 Milwaukee votes were cast from allegedly invalid addresses, based on another computerized match.

  • In Milwaukee, 10,921 voter registration cards from election-day voters were allegedly unable to be processed. 3,600 address verification cards mailed using information entered from these election-day registrations were returned as allegedly undeliverable. 2,200 address verification cards from outside of Milwaukee, mailed using information entered from election-day registrations, were also returned as allegedly undeliverable.

  • 376 individuals allegedly rendered ineligible by felony conviction cast ballots, based on an attempt to match voter rolls and information from the Department of Corrections.

  • 83 people allegedly voted twice; 14 allegedly voted both absentee and in person, 9 allegedly voted in Milwaukee and other cities, 59 allegedly voted twice in Milwaukee, and 1 allegedly voted twice in Madison.

  • 4 votes were cast in the names of allegedly dead people.

  • 1 vote was allegedly cast in the names of an individual who did not vote.

  • 2 votes were allegedly cast in the name of an individual who could not be verified as an actual individual.

  • 1 allegedly 17-year-old individual voted.

  • 1 allegedly foreign national voted.

  • Four individuals allegedly submitted false voter registration applications.

Additional allegations of irregularities unconnected to individual voter fraud:

  • In Milwaukee, there were allegedly 8,300 more ballots cast than individuals processed as voting; the gap was later narrowed to 4,609. The discrepancy was later attributed to administrative error in reconciling poll book logs with ballots, and at least one typographical error in reporting results.

  • In Milwaukee, tires on 20 get-out-the-vote vans were allegedly slashed.

  • 238 valid absentee ballots from Milwaukee were counted late.

  • Eight boxes of valid registration cards were allegedly not processed in order to put voters on the rolls by the time individuals arrived at the polls.

  • 600 valid votes were allegedly not counted in Medford due to a computer error.

Questioning the allegations:

  • Improper addresses: For several reasons, allegedly improper addresses may not show fraud. Apartment numbers may be incorrectly read as part of a street address by computerized matching systems, causing the system to reject an accurate address. A typographical or other data entry error may make a legitimate address appear fictitious (or appear to be located outside of the relevant precinct). A voter may be registered as living in a building that has been demolished since the registration was processed; if the voter moved within the same precinct, she may only be required to provide new address information on election day. In addition, an individual (e.g., a site manager of a business) may actually live at what appears to be an invalid business address.

  • Address verification cards: Address verification cards may be returned as undeliverable for similar reasons, including typos or data entry errors. Especially in apartment buildings, an individual may validly live with others but not have her name on the mailbox or mail drop. People may also move after an election.

  • Voters ineligible because of conviction: Claims that individuals rendered ineligible by conviction have voted are often supported by attempts to match conviction records to the voter rolls, but the matching enterprise may be unreliable. Two list entries under the same name—even the same name and birthdate—may indicate different individuals. In other circumstances, a convicted individual is mistakenly presumed ineligible, when she has been convicted after the election, convicted of a crime that does not result in the loss of voting rights, or has had her rights restored. In yet other cases, a pollworker error causes a person who never cast a ballot to be listed as voting.

  • Double voters: The fact that the same name is listed as voting on two different voting rolls does not necessarily mean that one person voted twice: often, what looks like the same person listed twice turns out to be two different individuals with the same name and/or birthday. In other cases, clerical errors may be responsible for the double listing.

  • Dead voters: Just as with convictions and double voters, attempts to match records of deaths to current voter rolls are unreliable. Two list entries under the same name—even the same name and birthdate—may indicate different individuals. Even more often, the lists themselves are flawed: because of a clerical error or faulty information, an individual is marked as voting when she did not in fact cast a ballot, or an individual is shown as deceased when she is actually very much alive. Finally, it is possible that the match is accurate but reveals nothing illegal about the vote: the voter has died, yes, but after casting her ballot.

  • Votes cast in the names of others: Some claims may reveal absentee ballots that an elderly voter simply forgot. Others involve clerical errors by an election worker, entering a notation for a cast ballot on the wrong line of the voter rolls.

The facts:

  • Improper addresses: Of the 37,180 registrations with allegedly invalid addresses, 31,500 listed accurate street addresses but problems with an apartment number. Further review of the remaining allegedly invalid addresses revealed cases in which the list was corrupted; digits were dropped on some entries, making otherwise valid addresses appear fictitious. This review also showed typos turning valid addresses into invalid ones. Though reporters following up on the story could not locate 68 listed addresses, at least 400 addresses were affirmatively proven to be valid. The bipartisan Milwaukee Election Commission ultimately threw out a challenge lodged to 5,619 of the entries, citing insufficient evidence that the registrations were invalid. Still, pollworkers were specifically instructed to ask challenged voters for proof of residency, so every voter on the list of 5,619 should have been asked for proof of proper residency.

    The allegations of 1,242 votes from addresses flagged as invalid were based on a computer match of voter rolls against U.S. Postal Service and City of Milwaukee property lists, with spot checks of 40 specific addresses. In further review of 300 of the sample names, about 20% of the invalid addresses were attributed to data entry errors (e.g., “3130 S. 15th Place” became “3130 S. 15th St.,” and “S. 68th St.” became “S. 63rd St.”). At least two other addresses ostensibly deemed business locations were found to be valid residences after an individual spot-check. Furthermore, 75% of these votes were from election-day registrants, who were required to show proof of residence at the polls.

  • Election-day registrations and address verification: The allegation that 10,921 cards could not be processed was apparently an error; 1,305 election-day registration cards from Milwaukee actually could not be processed. 548 of these listed no address, and 48 cards listed no name, but voters had to show both proof of name and proof of residence to register on election day. 236 cards had missing or incomplete dates of birth, 28 had no signature, 141 listed addresses outside of the city limits, and 23 were deemed illegible. 155 cards were not processed because they had not been given a voter number by the city. It is unclear why the remaining 126 cards could not be processed.

    3,600 Milwaukee address verification cards from election-day registrants were allegedly returned as undeliverable; we are not aware of any further public investigation of these cards.

    Of the 313 Racine election-day address verification cards allegedly returned as undeliverable, 207 were returned because the voter moved after the election, and at least 24 addresses were entered incorrectly by election workers. Of the 1,887 returned address verifications of election-day registrations from elsewhere around the state, 1,198 were returned because the voter moved after the election or was temporarily absent when the card arrived; 610 showed a valid address but the individual could not be found there; 36 had an incorrect street number; 2 had an incorrect street name; 9 had a missing apartment number; 9 were sent to an address with no mailbox; 2 were sent to vacant addresses; and 21 were returned for some other reason.

  • Voters ineligible because of conviction: The organizers of one pre-election jailhouse absentee ballot drive conducted a records check on 400 inmates who had signed up, found 18 ineligible, and alerted election officials; no votes were cast by these ineligible persons.

    96 individuals listed as voting in Milwaukee matched name, address, and birthdate against Department of Correction records, and 182 individuals listed as voting matched only name and address. At least 1 appears to have been erroneously listed as voting; he is listed as voting but claims that he did not, while his wife is not listed as voting but did cast a ballot. Another 98 people listed as voting elsewhere around the state matched name, address, and birthdate against Department of Correction records, but at least 9 were convicted after the election, and were eligible at the time they cast their ballot.

    13 voters have been formally charged with fraudulently voting while ineligible; of these, 7 have been convicted, 1 voter was acquitted, 1 case was dismissed upon evidence that the voter was eligible when voting, 2 cases were dismissed for other reasons, and 2 cases were dismissed despite evidence that the voter was ineligible. In one of the latter cases, the voter provided his Department of Corrections identification card at the polls, which had “OFFENDER” printed in bold letters across the face, but was not told that he was ineligible to vote.

    3 others were documented as voting while ineligible but have not been charged. An additional voter documented as ineligible was found in 2006.

  • Double voters: A computer glitch in Milwaukee caused at least 314 voters who re-registered before or on election day to be listed twice on the rolls, with a notation of voting next to each listing. Each was given only a single ballot.

    Of the 59 voters alleged to have voted twice in Milwaukee, most registered twice but voted only once. 51 were cleared by investigators, 1 was acquitted at trial, 1 received no verdict at trial, and 1 was found incompetent to stand trial. Finally, another voter named Gloria Bell believes that she was confused with a woman named Gloria Bell-Piphus.

    Of the 9 voters alleged to have voted both in Milwaukee and in another city, all 9 were cleared of wrongdoing: clerical and scanning errors by pollworkers accounted for 6 of the voters, 2 were fathers and sons alleged to be the same person, and 1 had a different middle name and birthdate from his alleged double. Of the 14 voters alleged to have voted both absentee and in person, in at least 12 cases, after comparing absentee records to poll records, the absentee ballot was not counted.

  • Dead voters: 4 absentee ballots were cast by individuals who died within two weeks of the election; it is not clear whether the ballots were cast before the individuals died.
  • Votes cast in the names of others: Further investigation of the alleged vote cast in the name of another was determined to be a clerical error by a pollworker.
  • Votes cast in the names of a fictitious individual: 2 votes were allegedly cast in the name of Marquis F. Murff, who could not be verified by a reporter as an actual individual. We are not aware of any further public investigation.
  • Underage voter: One ballot was cast by a 17-year-old voter, using his real birthdate.
  • Foreign national: One columnist reports that a ballot was allegedly cast by a Canadian legal permanent resident. We are not aware of any further public investigation.
  • Voter registration applications: 2 Milwaukee residents were convicted for submitting false voter registration applications; 1 person alleged to have supervised two others who turned in false forms was also convicted, but that conviction was overturned. The trial of one other individual accused of submitting false registration applications is still pending. No votes were alleged to have been cast under these registrations.

Coverage by existing law:
The vast majority of these allegations would have been addressed by adequate implementation of existing law. Elections officials should have been able to correct incomplete or illegible registration cards on site; the requirement of proof of residence for election-day registrants should have caught invalid addresses on election day. Addresses of voters registering before election day could have been carefully investigated before election day—by an investigation more thorough than a computer match, and attuned to the possibility of data entry errors. If the investigation revealed questions, as occurred here, the questioned voters could have been validly challenged by election officials, and asked to verify their residence; if an investigation revealed fraud rather than error or a valid change of residence, the case could be referred for prosecutorial follow-through. Similarly, as occurred here, absentee ballots should have been matched against poll records to determine if a duplicate had been cast.

Proper implementation of the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) would have addressed most of the remaining allegations. HAVA requires states to create statewide electronic voter registration lists with each eligible voter listed uniquely to remove duplicate registrations, and to coordinate those computerized lists with agency records on death and conviction in order to remove ineligible voters. Although the obligation to maintain these cleaned lists predated HAVA, the computerized registration rolls—if implemented with suitable controls for accuracy—offer a new and efficient means to do so statewide. Like most states, Wisconsin did not have a HAVA-ready statewide database up and running in 2004, but once it does, the database should allow the state to sharply reduce even the small number of alleged invalid votes due to allegedly improper registrations.

<<Back to Case Studies by State

Wisconsin State Election Board, Results of Fall General Election—11/02/2004.
Kevin Murphy, Election Fraud Conviction Overturned, Racine Journal Times, Apr. 25, 2007.
Lorraine Minnite, The Politics of Voter Fraud 32–35 (Mar. 6, 2007).
Derrick Nunnally, Felon Charged in Voting Case, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 1, 2006.
Derrick Nunnally, Woman Gets Probation in Fraud Case, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 23, 2006.
Hearing on the Conduct of Elections and Proposals for Reform: Hearing Before the Comm. on H. Admin., 109th Cong. (2006).
Gina Barton, A Felon But Not a Fraud: No Charges for Voter with Prison I.D., Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mar. 16, 2006.
Derrick Nunnally, 2 Plead Guilty to Election Crimes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 13, 2006.
Gregory Stanford, Election Fraud Witch Hunt Disillusions Young Voter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 8, 2006.
Steve Schultze, Vote Fraud Charge Dismissed, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dec. 8, 2005.
Steve Schultze, No Vote Fraud Plot Found, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dec. 5, 2005.
Laurel Walker, Column, Bucher Striking Out So Far on Voter Fraud, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 30, 2005.
U.S. Dept. of Justice, Criminal Division, Public Integrity Section, Federal Election Fraud Prosecutions and Convictions, Ballot Access And Voting Integrity Initiative, October 2002 to September 2005 (Nov. 7, 2005).
Reid J. Epstein, Woman Accused of Voter Fraud in Waukesha County, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 14, 2005.
Gina Barton, Mistrial Declared in Voter Case, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 22, 2005.
Greg Borowski & Stacy Forster, State Audit Digs Up Wider Vote Problems, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 16, 2005.
Felon Says He Voted Illegally, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 16, 2005.
State of Wisconsin, Legislative Audit Bureau, Voter Registration: An Evaluation, Report No. 05–12, Sept. 2005.
Greg Borowski, Nothing Points to Fraud in 9 Double Voting Cases, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 23, 2005.
Letter from U.S. Attorney Steven M. Biskupic to Rick Wiley, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, Aug. 22, 2005.
Greg Borowski, 9 May Have Voted in 2 Cities, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 10, 2005.
Derrick Nunnally, Federal Charges Filed Against Three Voters, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 23, 2005.
Rachel McCormick, Judge Throws Out Plea Agreement in Voter Registration Fraud Case, Sentences Man to Jail, Racine Journal Times, June 22, 2005.
Greg Borowski, Error Nets Bush 100 Extra Votes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 8, 2005.
Greg Borowski, A New Push to Repair Elections, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 15, 2005.
Preliminary Findings of Joint Task Force Investigating Possible Election Fraud, May 10, 2005.
Greg Borowski & Mark Maley, Review Indicates 278 Felons Cast Ballots Illegally in State, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mar. 18, 2005.
Greg Borowski, 82 Felons Voted in Nov. 2 Election, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mar. 18, 2005.
Greg Borowski, Artison Resigns as Election Director, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mar. 2, 2005.
Tom Kertscher, 2% of Racine Voter Registration Cards Returned, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 18, 2005.
Greg Borowski & Tom Kertscher, Double Trouble in Voter Inquiry, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 9, 2005.
Greg Borowski, Some Sites Show Huge Vote Gaps, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 2, 2005.
Greg Borowski, Fraud or Bumbling, Voter Problems Still Unnerving to Public, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 30, 2005.
Jim Stingl, Column, Mysterious Phantom Voters Turn Out to Be Some Really Nice People, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 30, 2005.
Greg Borowski, City OK’d 1,305 Flawed Voter Cards, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 28, 2005.
Greg Borowski, Police, FBI Join Investigation into Possible Election Fraud, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 27, 2005.
Greg Borowski, Loopholes in Voting System a Symptom of its Openness, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 26, 2005.
Greg Borowski, Over 1,200 Voters’ Addresses Found Invalid, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 25, 2005.
Greg Borowski, Unsent Voter Cards Don’t Signal Fraud, Official Says, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 19, 2005.
David Doege, Two More Arrested in Tire Slashing Case, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 7, 2004.
Editorial, Protect Voter Rights Today, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 1, 2004.
Greg Borowski, GOP Demands IDs of 37,000 in City, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 30, 2004.
Greg Borowski & Steven Walters, Vote Inquiry Sharpens Focus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 29, 2004.
Greg Borowski, GOP Fails to Get 5,619 Names Removed From Voting Lists, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel., Oct. 28, 2004.
Tom Kertscher, Racine, Kenosha Voter Application Fraud Alleged, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 28, 2004.
Dave Umhoefer, FBI Questions Official in Milwaukee County Jailhouse Voter Drive, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 28, 2004.

Other resources:
Voter Fraud Conviction Upheld, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 14, 2007.
Bill Glauber, Her First Vote Put Her in Prison, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 21, 2007.
Eric Lipton & Ian Urbina, In 5-Year Effort, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud, N.Y. Times, Apr. 12, 2007.
Greg Borowski, House Committee Looks into State Voting, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 18, 2005.
Editorial, State GOP Should Apologize, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 24, 2005.
Derrick Nunnally, 2 More Charged with Voting Twice, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 24, 2005
Greg Borowski, Inquiry Finds Evidence of Fraud in Election, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 10, 2005.
Greg Borowski, Nov. 2 Vote Not Properly Verified, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mar. 25, 2005.
Greg Borowski & Tom Kertscher, More Voting Gaps Found, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 15, 2005.
Greg Borowski & Stacy Forster, Voter Logbooks Out of Whack, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 10, 2005.
Georgia Pabst & Amy Rinard, NAACP Finds Election Problems in Suburbs, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 3, 2005.
Stacy Forster & Greg Borowski, Voter IDs Get New Push, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 1, 2005.
Tom Kertscher, Scandal Fuels Renewed Push for Voter ID Bill, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 29, 2005.
Greg Borowski, City Was Warned About Some Bad Voter Listings, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 26, 2005.
Tom Kertscher, Deputy Registrar May Have Violated State Election Law, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 30, 2004.