Election officials have ordered hand counts of paper ballots from 5 percent of the state’s voting machines in an effort to audit the accuracy of Election Day results.
If the audits don’t uncover miscounts, they would help to settle any controversy over Scott Walker's inability to obtain a recount. He's blocked from doing so because of a law he enacted after the 2016 election: It allows only candidates who lose by less than 1 percent of the vote to demand recounts, and Democrat Tony Evers defeated Walker by 1.1 percent of the vote.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch raised the possibility of a recount in the early morning hours of Nov. 7, as the reporting of Milwaukee's absentee ballots put Evers ahead by an insurmountable number. She told the crowd gathered for a victory party that volunteers and donations would be needed for a likely recount.
But since Nov. 7, no demands for a recount have arisen from Walker or his supporters
Karen McKim, the coordinator of Wisconsin Election Integrity, said the sample recounts were not prompted by Walker or his supporters, but rather by the Wisconsin Election Commission, in an effort to ensure the accuracy of the state's election systems. WEI is a bipartisan nonprofit group that advocates for fair elections.
Currently, election officials only verify that the number of paper ballots cast matches the number counted by the voting machines. But, in 2006, the state adopted a law requiring officials to ascertain whether the actual selections for candidates on paper ballots reconcile with machine tabulations.
In the past, the state has ignored that law. But questions raised by Russian interference in the 2016 elections prompted the Wisconsin Election Commission to take a step toward compliance with the law, McKim said. She praised the election commission for taking the step.
"The cash station at the local convenience store is audited every night. Your election results aren’t,” McKim said. “Nobody ever checks to see that when you deposit your ballots into the voting machine that the machine credits your votes to the right candidates.”
The counts are open for public observation, and McKim stresses the importance of having observers present.
"We cannot have secure elections without transparency," she said. "But our election officials cannot make transparency happen all by themselves. Voters need to be there to observe. Just by being present, voters can help to secure Wisconsin elections,” she said a joint press statement from Wisconsin Election Integrity and the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
“Any voter who observes one of these audits won’t regret it. Audits are administrative procedures, more relaxed than recounts. Observers will be able to ask questions and come to understand our voting machines better, both their benefits and their limitations.”
Voters can check this list to find out whether municipalities in their voting jurisdictions are conducting hand-counted audits. The list also contains contact information to help citizens find out where and when hand counts are occurring.
The counts will continue until Nov. 28, when results must be certified. The deadline for filing the results is Dec. 3.
“These audits give Wisconsin officials their first opportunity ever to detect any miscounts or hacks in time to fix them," McKim said. "These hand counts move Wisconsin’s election security up out of the bottom half of all the states.”
Wisconsin ranks poorly in national assessments of election security.