The Case for Verifying Voting-machine Output

1.   Electronic miscounts cannot be prevented.

  • Mistakes will happen. Election officials and the voting-machine company employees who make and service our voting machines are human. Humans sometimes make mistakes, particularly on complex tasks they perform only a few times each year with little or no oversight.
  • Malfunctions will happen. Machines, including computers like voting machines, sometimes unexpectedly malfunction at inopportune times.
  • Hacking will happen. No public official in Wisconsin—state, county, or municipal—has the capability to protect our voting-machine software from tampering. Local clerks must allow voting-machine vendors to patch and update the software, and none have the authority or capability to verify the software was not corrupted. No public official in Wisconsin reviews the voting-machine vendors’ IT security programs, and even if they did, the vendors’ IT security cannot possibly be expected to be more successful in preventing hacking than the likes of Target, Sony, and the Federal Reserve Bank.

CheckLogo-Large.jpg2.   Wisconsin’s current practices do not detect electronic miscounts that may be occurring.

  • No one checks the accuracy of our voting-machine output before county clerks declare it to be our final, official election results. If miscounts happen, they are not detected.  Routine post-election checks verify only the correct number of ballots;  the correct number of votes is verified only if the margin of victory is less than 2%--something a hacker would never produce. The sole exception is when the miscount is extreme (e.g., Stoughton machines’ failure to count any votes on a local referendum in 2014).
  •  After voting-machine output is certified as final election results, Wisconsin statutes provide no process or authority for anyone to change it.
  • GAB orders voting-machine audits in a small number of precincts only after November elections (never any other), but these audits are not designed to--and cannot--detect any outcome-altering miscounts in time for them to be corrected. Among other problems, the audit procedures require clerks to explain any detected miscounts and then exclude them from the reported 'error rate,' a practice criticized in a 2014 Legislative Audit Bureau report, which concluded the practice could cause "the individuals conducting the audits (to misidentify) equipment errors as elector errors." GAB's audit procedures have no provision for expansion of the audit if errors are found in one precinct. GAB has never publicly released detailed findings that include the vote discrepancies noted in the audits, although they have documented municipalities' difficulty reconciling the number of ballots at the time of the audit.

3.       Routine verification is easy, cheap, and legal; it can be performed on local officials’ own initiative without GAB direction; it is done in other states; and it is recommended by every national elections-administration authority.

  •  Voting-machine output can be promptly verified without a full hand count of very vote on every ballot. Contests that will be recounted do not need to be verified, nor do uncontested races.  Sampling techniques can verify the correct outcome was reported (or wasn’t) without needing to reproduce the exact vote total with a full hand count.
  • Verification of voting-machine output could easily be performed during the few working days following each election, while local officials wait for all absentee ballots to be returned and provisional ballots to be cleared up.
  • A committed clerk has all the statutory authority, GAB instructions, and permission he or she needs to verify accurate counts before certification. Existing instructions for county boards of canvass already instruct them to look for signs of electronic miscounts, and to require municipalities to correct any suspect counts. GAB has instructions for opening and resealing ballot bags, and for conducting hand counts as part of post-election voting-machine audits, although more efficient methods are both available and permissible.  The GAB Board at their October 2014 meeting explicitly permitted pre-certification verification; clerks do NOT have to wait and are permitted to verify the accuracy of voting-machine output during the local canvass.
    Efficient methods have been developed for verifying voter output using the digital images created by the DS200 voting machines, which also allow the clerks to verify the output without unsealing ballot bags.


For more information on how Wisconsin's elections can be better protected, follow our Election Integrity Blog and check out these links: 

Five things you can do to help to protect Wisconsin elections in only a few hours a year.

Understand more about the vulnerabilities affecting Wisconsin's elections

A printable illustrated booklet describing how electronic miscounts happen, using three actual, well-documented cases.

A "Field Guide" to Wisconsin's election officials--who does what at the state, county, and municipal levels.

The Case for Preserving Voter-marked Paper Ballots (Advantages of op scan over touch-screen tabulators)

Arrange an Election Integrity Road Show for your community group.

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