Draft Open Letter - Do not share, please

This webpage is not being openly published, but the link is being shared with individuals as they are invited to sign on to the following open letter.

The purpose is to make sure county officials, the media, and the public understand that we still need official, valid verification of election results, even with ballot images posted on the Internet. We can't let people think that we are backing off our call for legitimate election audits just because ballot images are posted to the Internet. 

  • Recipients will include the County Exec, County Clerk, and Board of Supervisors.
  • Target for release is shortly after the April 4 election, during the county canvass period.

Please let Karen through know through email (safeandhappy@tds.net), Facebook, or phone (212-5079) if you agree to have your name listed as a signer.

Here's the draft:

Dear Dane County Officials:

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 admirable: 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 audits 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 for some reason, property owners had no way to check for themselves that those bills were correct. Now imagine that:

  • The city treasurer never checked the accuracy of the property tax bills until after payments were made;
  • In that belated verification, the treasurer never checked the accuracy of more than two neighborhood’s bills, and did not do that until after  he no longer had any authority to make refunds;
  • Whenever people questioned their property tax bills, the city treasurer's audit policy was 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 treasurer posted assessment records on the Internet and told citizens to do the auditing themselves.

It's easy to see: Suspicions of fraud and meddling would quickly arise among this city’s residents and would not go away until the city treasurer began to conduct routine audits. It is basic human nature: managerial refusal to prove accuracy creates suspicion.  Managers who verify accuracy build confidence.

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

Posting the ballot images on the Internet does not protect our elections, for several reasons. Volunteer citizen auditors cannot credibly perform a governmental responsibility, such as verifying election results. In addition, 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 clerk is not providing citizens with workable software to view the ballot images. His office failed in a February 2015 attempt to unzip and save even two precincts’ ballots with enough accuracy to support a valid audit, and after one test, decided that county audits would not use the viewing software the clerk is now recommending (Irfanview), as it is ill-designed for election audits. Those of you who have attended demonstrations conducted by the Wisconsin Election Integrity Action Team know that workable open-source software, designed specifically for this purpose, is available and has been offered at no cost to the county clerk on multiple occasions.

The risk of electronically miscounted elections is no longer hypothetical after the 2014 Stoughton referendum miscount. Had that error been a simple yes/no switch, it would not have been noticed. The issue 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.

Other jurisdictions in other states are moving rapidly ahead to implement 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 completed 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.


The following supporters of the Wisconsin Election Integrity Action Team


(A list of 26 names, as of 6PM Monday) 


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