By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Chad Gigowski is a convict, pleading guilty last month to felony voter fraud for voting twice in the 2012 presidential election. He was sentenced to six months in jail, though granted work release privilege with 2 1/2 years probation to follow.
That much is clear through court records and media accounts of the 28-year-old Milwaukee man’s sentencing Thursday in Milwaukee County Court.
We also know Gigowski claimed he was high on booze and drugs when he cast his ballots, and that he was not part of any organized election fraud effort, according to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Gigowski used an old driver’s license to vote earlier on Election Day in Greenfield, signing a form stating he was a Greenfield resident, according to Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf. Gigowski did the same later in the day in Milwaukee, using a state Department of Workforce Development letter sent in his name to a Milwaukee address. He then signed a form promising that he hadn’t voted in the same election.
All of that is a matter of public record.
What is not publicly known is who Gigkowski voted for.
Under Wisconsin election law, that information is off-limits.
Voting is supposed to be anonymous. Voters don’t sign their ballots, of course, so there’s no way of knowing who voted for whom.
“There isn’t a system set up to be able to track an individual’s vote to redress” an individual act of election fraud, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board. But you can be caught if you do something like Gigowski was convicted of doing.
Wisconsinites value that anonymity at the polls. Voters expect that their vote stays between them, their conscience and the ballot box. A search of Wisconsin’s Statewide Voter Registration System will show when someone voted, but not for whom the individual voted.
Not even the prosecutor or the court knows who Gigowski voted for. Wisconsin Reporter, perhaps like a lot of readers who read last week’s stories on the election fraud case, is curious. Who did he vote for? We still can’t say. Gigowski could not be reached for comment and his attorney did not return a request for comment.
The bigger question is what happens in the case of widespread voter fraud? While Gigowski’s two-vote day may have had no bearing on the outcome of the 2012 races on his ballots, the fraud he committed and the anonymity of the act raises significant voter integrity questions.
“The court will agree this is the most serious of all election fraud” offenses Landgraf told Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Timothy Witkowiak on Thursday, as quoted by the Journal Sentinel. “Someone is seeking to dilute the vote of others … It goes against the fundamental principle of one person, one vote.”
And here’s another point Landgraf raised at the sentencing, a point often overlooked in Wisconsin.
“(I)t’s not difficult to in fact steal someone’s vote or vote twice,” the assistant D.A. said, according to the newspaper. He said the system “invests quite a bit of trust in the individual voter,” and Gigowski abused that trust.
Such incidents, as Witkowiak pointed out, only steel the resolve of Republican lawmakers to strengthen election laws.
“This most recent example is yet another reason why election reform needs to be addressed this fall,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, one of the most vocal proponents of Wisconsin’s controversial voter ID law and a host of election integrity measures. Vos counts elections reforms among the GOP’s top agenda items in the fall session.
Voter ID remains in legal limbo while it moves into federal court in November. But Republicans have introduced several election-based bills in recent months.
Earlier this month, the Senate took up legislation crafted to address irregularities that arose in the 2012 Senate recall election in Racine.
“There were a lot of irregularities (in Racine). They didn’t use the proper bags, they taped up only half the bag, they were reusing bags from the morning … It seems to be a cyclical thing in Racine,” Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, said last week.
Bills passed by the Senate require that only a chief inspector and an inspector from a different political party may seal ballot bags, an equal number of election inspectors from Republicans and Democrats perform polling functions and an election official records the type of proof of residency document submitted by a voter at registration.
Bags in nine of the 36 polling places in the June 5 recall election in Racine were double-bagged. An audit found missing pages in poll books, missing signatures on supplemental poll lists, incorrect voting numbers and unsealed and sealed and reopened ballot bags in wards.
No fraud was turned up by an investigation, however.
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin in July 2012 said a Jiffy Lube receipt was accepted in one county as a proof of residency, while a Wisconsin driver’s license was not accepted in another county.
“Between (the bills) and the (Government Accountability Board’s) hard work, I don’t think this will be an issue again,” Lazich said.
While state elections officials say election fraud is rare in Wisconsin, Gigowski was one of 10 people charged in March with myriad election fraud crimes. Leonard K. Brown also has been charged with casting more than one ballot in the same election. Brown’s case is scheduled for trial.
Bernier, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Campaigns and Elections and served as Chippewa County Clerk from 1999 to 2011, is concerned about the anonymity maintained by those convicted of election fraud. And she sees fundamental problems with the lack of checks and balances between Wisconsin and its border states, making it easier, Bernier says, for out-of-state voters to illegally vote in Wisconsin elections.
But perhaps the state’s biggest elections weakness, the representative asserts, is the inability to believe voters could game the system. Because prosecution of election fraud falls on the shoulders of county district attorneys already strapped for resources, Bernier said such cases are rarely investigated, and hardly ever prosecuted. D.A.’s also must consider the high threshold of proving election fraud, weighing against the demands of other higher profile cases.
Magney said district attorneys are not required to report election fraud investigations and charges to the Government Accountability Board, but he said the public is aware of the cases.
“The public interest in voter integrity issues is very high,” the GAB official said. “It would be very difficult for me to believe that anyone, anywhere, prosecuted would not become news.”
There is opportunity for mischief.
An August 2011 investigation by Wisconsin Reporter found nearly 1,000 people, who were probably dead, were listed on the Statewide Voter Registration System.
While the dead accounted for a fraction of the total 3.2 million voters on the list and the Badger State boasts one of the cleaner registration systems in the nation, election observers say unauthorized voters of any kind in any number present potential election integrity concerns.
Wisconsin Reporter purchased the voter database, at a cost of $12,500, and found a total of 166 probable deceased names on the voter list in the Republican Senate districts that were targeted for August 2011 recall elections.
Critics of Wisconsin’s law requiring a form of photo ID to vote argue the requirement makes voting so difficult and inconvenient that it would amount to a denial of the right to vote for some.
They have fought Republican attempts to tweak the law to make it more accessible.
“We still say that asking for a photo ID is discriminatory. There is no real way for the Republican leadership to attempt to improve the voter ID law,” Stacy Harbaugh, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, told the liberal Capital Times of Madison in December. “The law has already been proven in court to have a discriminatory impact on people of color, the elderly, veterans, low-income people and students.”
But Bernier and other voter ID advocates say election fraud cases like Gigowski’s hammer home the need to secure election integrity.
“You have a right to vote, but you have a responsibility that goes along with that,” Bernier said.
Contact M.D. Kittle at [email protected]