On Tuesday, September 25, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) voted to mandate timely post-election audits for 5% of Wisconsin's voting machines, immediately following the November 2018 election.
The municipal clerks in charge of these randomly-selected voting machines will be ordered to complete the audits BEFORE the election results are declared final.
No other security measure comes close to the value of paper ballots and routine, manually counted audits, in terms of protecting final election results from tampering and in building voter confidence. They are the keystones of any election-security program.
But before today, Wisconsin's failure to use its paper ballots in routine, pre-certification audits kept our election security ranked in the lower half of all states'.
The WEC fixed that today. By ordering at least 1 in every 20 machines audited promptly after Election Day, the WEC moved Wisconsin into the top 10 or 12 states.
The audit program still isn't perfect. Along with other problems, it lacks a clear policy regarding when clerks can let small discrepancies slide and when they should expand the audit to more machines. Instructions about investigating discrepancies are still limited to "Ask the vendor what happened." The policy applies only to November elections; primaries and nonpartisan elections will remain unaudited. Several other states still do more to verify that they are always declaring the correct winners.
But today's decision was a solid, valuable step in deterring hackers and making sure any serious unintended miscounts are caught and corrected. Yesterday, Wisconsin was among the states that didn't bother to audit computer-tabulated vote totals, and today, we're among those that do.
Email the Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org to thank them, and encourage them to keep going until Wisconsin's election security is as good as any!
Understand the security issues threatening our vote-tabulation system.
Donate to help with a public-education project.
Election clerks and voting-machine programmers are human, and humans sometimes make mistakes.
Machines sometimes malfunction.
Hackers exist--and not just in Russia.
Our language has the word "glitch" because that's a thing.
Those facts are not scandalous. They are simple facts of life that mean we need professional-quality, prudent management of our vote-counting computers.
This is the scandalous fact: After every election, Wisconsin's election officials carelessly assume that no glitches, errors, or hacks affected the computer-tabulated election results. They don't bother to check the Election-Night vote totals from the voting machines before they declare them to be our final, official election results.
Go ahead: You can call your county clerk right now and confirm that.
That should be unthinkable, intolerable. When no one uses the paper ballots, Wisconsin is no better off than the states that don't use paper ballots at all.
Yet verified accurate results are completely within our reach--even without any changes in state law or new technology. The simple facts:
- State law gives our local clerks time to review the preliminary Election-Night results before they declare them final, or 'certify' them. Even if the machines were hacked, local election officials could secure election results by detecting and correcting any miscounts.
- Election-Day miscounts are not a risk; they are a reality. Medford in 2004, Stoughton in 2014, and the City of Marinette and Racine County in 2016. Other miscounts have almost certainly escaped detection, because Wisconsin officials so rarely check for accuracy.
- Once declared final, Wisconsin law contains no provision for changing election results. Any errors or miscounts found after certification cannot be corrected. If our election officials don't check accuracy during the canvass, our elections will not be secure against error and fraud.
- Full recounts are not necessary. Checking even only a few random machines in each county would provide a deterrence that doesn't now exist. 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.
Election security is not complete without routine, transparent verification during the canvass after every election.
Our voting rights don't end when the polls close. Our right to cast a vote means nothing if our right to have that vote counted is ignored.
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In particular, check out these five ways any Wisconsin voter can promote secure elections. 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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