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Recount Statutes

Why ask for a recount?

Recount Guide by the GAB (51 pages)

What Problems Have Occurred? - reasons to audit

Does Wisconsin Count Votes Correctly?

Is there enough evidence so that voters can be confident?  The items below are based upon a letter to the Assembly Committee on Elections.

                                                                                    March 21, 2011
To: Members of the Assembly Committee on Election and Campaign Reform
From:  Paul Malischke, on behalf of Fair Elections Wisconsin

Counting the votes correctly may be the most important function of an election.  Counting should be thorough and transparent.  There should be enough evidence available to the public to give them confidence that the votes are being counted correctly. 

However, many aspects that affect the Wisconsin vote count have significant weaknesses.

Please consider using the committee oversight function and the ability to develop legislation to improve these factors involved in counting the votes.

The Legislature should also ensure that GAB is given the resources to carry out their important functions in a timely manner.

1)  Appointments are made to the County Boards of Canvassers by one individual, the County Clerk, who is a partisan official.  There is no approval required by the local governing body, and this means a lack of accountability.  Please consider changing the law to require approval by the governing body for appointments to the county and municipal Boards of Canvassers.

2)  In 2010, GAB staff introduced a web-based system for gathering canvass results.  This system has not been approved by the federal certifying body, nor checked by any other body.  GAB staff have not mentioned any spot-checking or auditing procedures that might reassure the public that the system works properly.  There has been no public discussion of whether a web-based system is secure enough for this vital function.

3)  2003 Wisconsin Act 265 created statute 5.87 (2), which states, “The board shall, by rule, prescribe uniform standards for determining the validity of votes cast or attempted to be cast with each electronic voting system approved for use in this state under s. 5.91.”

Seven years later, no such rule exists, and there has been no visible progress towards developing one.

4)  The administrative rule (GAB Chapter 7) for approving voting machines and associated software is out of date.   I pointed this out before the May 5, 2008 GAB meeting and the Board directed staff to present a proposal for an updated rule at the August meeting.  Three Augusts have gone by with no visible progress.

5)  There is no administrative rule for the security of voting equipment and software.  The GAB wrote a draft, implemented some security by policy, and then stopped the promulgation process.  The GAB staff has resisted conducting any spot checks of what is occurring in the field. The proposed rule ignores state of the art security for critical items such as Election Management Systems, which program tabulators and aggregate vote counts.  There has been no progress towards developing the rule since November 2009.

6)  Pre-election testing of tabulators is done by the municipalities, but guidelines about how to perform it are very sketchy.  It is impractical to test all possible ballot situations; therefore intelligent design of the process is needed.  The old State Election Board in November 2007 passed a motion to direct staff to begin to promulgate a rule on pre-election testing, but there has been no visible progress.

7)  Every two years, Wisconsin conducts an audit of the vote counts.  This consists of some hand counts to check the tabulators.  There are severe weaknesses in the current procedure: 

  • Contests that are close and might be subject to recount are excluded.
  • The audits are usually not conducted until after certification of the count.
  • There has never been a comprehensive report on the audit results.

Please consider legislating a thorough audit program.

8)  Recounts of optical scan ballots are currently required to be performed by sending them through the tabulator again.  Before this is done, a test of the tabulator by the Board of Canvassers is required.  Typically, they use the same test deck that was used for the pre-election test.  This test deck usually will have a test crossover and overvote, but usually not specific to the contest of interest.   For recounts, testing should be more thorough.  An administrative rule is needed to detail testing before elections and for recounts.

9)  Recounts are our closest and most closely watched contests.  They should involve at least some hand counts as the best method to prove that the machines were programmed correctly.  The best alternative would be to restore the option to the Board of Canvassers to decide whether to conduct a hand count.  This option worked well until it was taken away by 2005 Act 451.  The purpose of this clause in Act 451 was to provide uniformity in recounts, but in fact the opposite has resulted.  Jurisdictions that have both optical scan ballots and touchscreen machines (for those with special needs) are counting the optical scan ballots by tabulator, but the touchscreen records by necessity are counted by hand.

Web page by Paul Malischke       malischke@yahoo.com       Last updated April 11, 2011