FILE - Voting booth polling place election

The state of Wisconsin is looking to get tougher on some voter fraud cases. 

The state's Election Commission on Monday voted to review cross-state fraud complaints before sending them to local district attorneys for prosecution. 

"The buck stops here, and we should deal with them," Commissioner Bob Thomsen said at Monday's meeting. 

This is the first time the Election Commission is moving to deal with voter fraud that crosses state lines. It's part of Wisconsin's membership in ERIC. The Electronic Registration Information System is a database shared by 29 states, including Wisconsin, that is designed to make sure people do not vote in two or more states. 

Nate Judnic, a senior election specialist for the WEC, said that ERIC provides Wisconsin with a list of voters from the last election. The state then crosschecks that to see if anyone voted in Wisconsin and another state.

"We'd have all of the information from here in Wisconsin – that is copies of poll books, voter registration forms, absentee applications, absentee envelopes – as well as the information from the other state," Judnic said. "All of that information would then go to the district attorney in the county where that person allegedly voted."

Judnic initially wanted to handle that process with just the Election Commission staffers. But commissioners pushed to have those complaints go before them before going to prosecutors. 

"As we know any referral will name names and so forth and so on," Commissioner Bob Spindell Jr. said. "Seems to me that we should take the responsibility on ourselves to be the ones who are referring it."

There are some questions about just how far the Election Commission can go on its own. 

Commissioner Ann Jacobs said the Wisconsin legislature put limits on what the commission can do after the John Doe investigation in 2013. 

"They said nobody in the commission is allowed to instigate an investigation. And if an investigation is instigated, it has to follow all of these criteria," Jacobs said. "Which seems to abrogate our ability to do this."

Judnic and the other commissioners said because the referral for out-of-state voter fraud would come from a data match, and that local prosecutors would have the final say, cases before the commission would not necessarily be "investigations."

The Election Commission voted 6-0 to move forward with the fraud check process. 

Staff Reporter

An industry veteran with two decades of experience in media, Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square.