Open letter to Dane County officials: Verify our election results

Two days after the April 4 election, 37 voters released the following open letter to Dane County officials, urging them to seek assistance from national experts and implement professional-quality election verification to build confidence in Dane County elections.

If you would like to be contacted to participate in any future actions such as this open letter, please email your contact information to WiscElectionIntegrity@gmail.com. You do not need to live in Dane County; we are working on growing our efforts in other Wisconsin counties, too.

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 April 6, 2017

An Open Letter to Dane County Executive, Supervisors, and County Clerk
regarding the continuing need for verified accurate election results

We recently read that Dane County will be posting ballot images online after the county canvass has declared election results final. To our knowledge, no other county in the nation is routinely doing this. The stated purpose is desirable: to “provide a level of confidence and faith in our electoral process that has been undermined by unfounded accusations of fraud or meddling.”

We agree that confidence in our elections is vital, and that posting ballot images to the Internet won’t hurt.

But please be aware: It will not guarantee accurate election results. Only official, valid verification during the county canvass can do that.

Let’s take a sober look at why ‘allegations of fraud or meddling’ are so persistent. Set computer-generated election results aside for a moment and think instead about computer-generated property tax bills. Imagine that property owners had no way to check for themselves that those bills were correct. Now imagine that:

  • The city never checked the accuracy of the electronically calculated property tax bills until after payments were made;
  • In that belated verification, the city never checked the accuracy of more than two neighborhood’s bills, and did not do that until after  the city no longer had any authority to make refunds;
  • Whenever people questioned a property tax bill, the city followed a policy like elections’ recount policy. That is, only one or two taxpayers had standing to demand verification, and if they suspected an error any larger than one-quarter of one percent, they had to pay the full cost of the audit, in cash, before the audit could start; and
  • Finally, when national authorities began to encourage vigilance and the taxpayers’ demands for verification could no longer be ignored, the city posted assessment records on the Internet so that citizens could do the auditing themselves.

It's easy to see that this city’s residents would rapidly be expressing suspicions of fraud, suspicions that would not go away until the city began to verify the accuracy of the computers’ output. It is basic human nature: managerial refusal to audit creates suspicion.  Managers who verify accuracy build confidence.

Without routine, official audits during the county canvass, we will have persistent suspicions and unrefuted allegations. With them, we will have voter confidence.

Posting the ballot images on the Internet does not protect our elections, for several reasons. Most importantly, volunteer citizen auditors cannot credibly perform a governmental responsibility such as verifying election results. Even if they could, Dane County has no written procedures for compiling, handling, and storing the digital ballot images, so they are not suitable for auditing. Finally, the County is not providing citizens with workable software to view the ballot images. The clerk’s office failed in a February 2015 attempt to unzip and save even two precincts’ ballots with enough accuracy to support a valid audit. Those of you who have attended demonstrations conducted by the Wisconsin Election Integrity Action Team know that workable open-source software, designed specifically for election auditing with digital images, is available and has been offered at no cost to the county clerk many times.

Concern about undetected electronic fraud is no longer the province of crackpots and ‘sore losers.’ Risks are now so credible that the federal government is suggesting elections technology be protected as critical infrastructure. Claims that any county’s system is immune from tampering are not credible. The additional risk of inadvertent miscounts is not hypothetical after the 2014 Stoughton referendum miscount.

Local jurisdictions in other states are implementing modern, efficient election-verification methods. Reputable national experts offer free consultation and assistance through the Election Verification Network. Because other states have moved ahead of Wisconsin in this area, we could learn from their experience. Counties in California and Colorado in particular are making great progress in building voter confidence by adopting a technique known as risk-limiting auditing, endorsed in 2014 by the Presidential Commission on Elections Administration.

On April 4, Dane County voters cast their ballots in one more election that will be declared final on the basis of unverified computer output. Nothing more than a two-machine spot check is planned after that. Don’t let Dane County fall farther behind. We urge you to intervene with the Dane County Clerk and Board of Canvassers to urge them to begin to build voter confidence with routine, valid, professional-quality verification of election results during the county canvass process.

Sincerely,

The following supporters of the Wisconsin Election Integrity Action Team:

Barbara Wright, Madison;

Sue & Steve Trace, Deforest;

Dace Zeps, Madison;

Nate Timm, Mazomanie;

Al Sulzer, Cross Plains;

Gary Storck, Madison;

John Stanley, Deforest;

David Schwab, Madison;

Gary Tipler, Madison;

Martina Rippon, Madison;

Alice & David Schneiderman, Madison;

Margaret Rigney, Deforest;

Susan Phillips, Sun Prairie;

Grant Petty, Madison;

Michael Olneck, Madison;

Keith Nelson, Westport;

Jim Mueller; Algoma, fmr Middleton

Jennifer Miller, Madison;

Dave Knutzen, Waunakee;

Karen McKim, Westport

Peter Johnson, Madison;

Jon Hain, Madison;

Adam Grabski, Mazomanie;

Janice Gibeau, Stoughton;

Nila Frye, Waunakee;

Harriet & Ronald Dinerstein; Madison;  

Karen Edson, Deforest;

Bob & Julie Crego, Middleton;

Damian Christianson, Fitchburg;

Joanne E. Brown, Madison;

Andrew Bersch, Madison;

Laurene Bach, Waunakee;

Rebecca Alwin, Middleton

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