Let's be realistic: Election-night miscounts are not preventable. Humans sometimes make errors. Machines sometimes malfunction. Hackers exist.
We know that. Our election officials know that.
Certifying preliminary election results (that is, making them final) without checking their accuracy
should be intolerable, unthinkable.
But it is standard practice in Wisconsin elections.
Voting machines are the only computers whose output we don't check for accuracy before making a final, irrevocable decision, like who to swear into office. The output from the computerized cash register at the corner convenience store is routinely reconciled against the contents of the cash drawer at the close of every business day.
But the output of Wisconsin's voting machines is declared to be our final election results, two to three weeks after every election, before anyone has checked its accuracy.
This is irresponsible. It is unnecessary.
Here are the simple facts:
- Election results are not final, official, and binding until they are certified. Wisconsin's municipal clerks have about a week following each election during which they could be checking accuracy and correcting errors. County clerks have about three weeks. Even if the machines were hacked, local election officials could still ensure accurate results by checking accuracy and correcting any miscounts they find.
- Wisconsin has already experienced several known significant electronic miscounts--Medford in 2004, Stoughton in 2014, and the City of Marinette in 2016. Other miscounts have almost certainly escaped detection, because Wisconsin officials so rarely check results for accuracy. And it is a fantasy that our voting machines--or any computers--can be made fully secure against manipulation by hackers or corrupt insiders.
- Once declared final, Wisconsin statutes contain no provision for correcting errors, so any errors or miscounts found after certification cannot be corrected. Any audits--by officials or citizens--that are done after certification are merely decorative. Accuracy must be checked during the canvass, or our elections will not be secure against error and fraud.
- Full recounts are not necessary. National election authorities have developed economical, practical, speedy methods for verifying preliminary election results. Other states are moving ahead to implement these methods. Any Wisconsin county clerk could do the same under current Wisconsin law.
Verified accurate results after every election are completely within our reach--even without any new state law or new technology.
Wisconsin voters deserve need routine, transparent verification during the canvass after every election.
You can join the ongoing fight to make sure our voting rights don't end when the polls close.
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In particular, check out these five ways any Wisconsin voter can encourage and help your local municipal clerk and county clerk fulfill current responsibilities. We don't need any new laws or procedures to make some improvements. The first thing we need is for people of good will and civic dedication to get involved with local election administration to make sure current standards and requirements are being met.
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