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.
Currently, election officials only check to verify that the number of paper ballots cast matches the number counted by the machines. But, in 2006, the state adopted a law requiring officials to ascertain whether the actual candidates selected on paper ballots corresponds with the machine count of votes for those candidates.
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, said Karen McKim, the coordinator of Wisconsin Election Integrity, a bipartisan nonprofit group that advocates for fair elections. 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 stressed 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,” 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.”
To see if a municipality in your service area is conducting a hand-counted audit, check this list. The list contains contact information to find out when and where the hand count in your community will be conducted.
The counts will continue until Nov. 28, when results must be certified. The deadline for filing the results is Dec. 3.
Wisconsin ranks poorly in national assessments of the states’ election security.
“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.”