Statement on the 2020 Election

by Karen McKim, November 13, 2020

Wisconsin’s elections technology, specifically the equipment that counts our votes, is not particularly well-managed from a security standpoint. Our local clerks have little control over the system’s security, which is largely in the hands of the vendors.

Nevertheless, Wisconsin’s local elections officials rely on post-Election Day review procedures that have allowed significant miscounts to go undetected; they have no routine management practices that ensure they could detect even outcome-altering miscounts, and they have adopted no procedures that would enable them to secure the election results even if they did. Some equipment used in Wisconsin has built-in flaws so serious that its use is prohibited elsewhere, and most local officials are not even aware of those flaws.

In every election those weaknesses put thousands of votes, both Democratic and Republican, at risk. These risks are not speculative; they are known to election-administration authorities nationwide, discussed in Congress, and highlighted by cybersecurity professionals. These weaknesses give power to unseen adversaries across the globe—or maybe lurking within a large voting-machine company. They also render our elections vulnerable to more mundane threats: equipment malfunctions and human programming error.

Many other states are taking responsible action to put effective safeguards in place. But in Wisconsin:

  • Election officials routinely certify computer output as our final election results before anyone has checked whether the vote totals identified the correct winner.
  • Election officials have no review practices in place that would reliably detect any incorrect vote totals, and no plans for what they would do if they did.
  • Our state’s major cities are making use of ballot-marking computers that record votes in barcodes that voters cannot read, and then don’t tell even the poll workers what the barcodes are for, or how the voters are supposed to verify them.
  • Many of our state’s rural communities are making use of voting equipment with a design flaw that enables the machines to make additional marks on the ballots after the voters cast them, and the Wisconsin Elections Commission does not bother to tell the local officials about this design flaw.

This website contains more information about these systemic risks and what might be done to bring effective safeguards to Wisconsin.

What you won’t find on this website is any fussing about the thousands of small things that can and will go wrong when an endeavor as complex as an election is managed by local government clerks and run by an army of lightly trained temporary employees who get at most four days of lightly supervised on-the-job experience every year.

  • Yes, some registered voters will die and won’t immediately be removed from the voting rolls. This does not threaten Wisconsin elections, because Wisconsin deactivates dead voters’ registrations within a month after their death certificate is filed. And even if they didn’t, there will never be enough sons who cast their dead mothers’ ballots to change the outcome in an election, and there are safeguards in place to detect and correct that, too. If some other state leaves dead people on the voter registration lists for a longer time, that’s the other state’s problem.
  • Yes, a few local clerks—or the Associated Press—will make a typo in the wee hours of the morning, after working all day, and report the wrong vote totals. This happens in every election but does not threaten Wisconsin elections, because routine procedures are in place to catch and correct those errors. Canvass meetings are open to the public, and anyone who wants to can attend and watch as the local officials catch and correct the typos and addition errors.
  • Yes, some voters will forget to make sure their witnesses sign their ballots and some clerks will go easy on them and fill the address in for them. This does not threaten Wisconsin elections. As long as it’s the right address, anyone will be able to contact the witness to verify that the ballot is for real, which would be a pointless thing to do anyway, considering all the other safeguards that prevent anyone from submitting a ballot for someone else or submitting two ballots for the same voter.
  • And yes, some voters had a different address on the Department of Transportation computers than they had on the Wisconsin Elections Commission computers. This does not threaten Wisconsin elections—or Wisconsin voting rights. The WEC was taking sensible steps to sort out the addresses, and none of the voters were going to show up more than once on the poll book anyway. And yes, some well-funded lawyers went to court to try to get the WEC to deactivate those voters’ registration (not their driver’s license). But those voters were not “purged,” and even if they had been, they could have quickly re-registered as soon as they went to vote anyway. There was no risk to Wisconsin’s elections no matter from which side you looked at it.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

This website is not about minor, predictable rough spots that cannot possibly alter the outcome of an election without being obvious.

It is especially not about exaggerating the seriousness of any of those rough spots to help one political party or another claim advantage or victimhood.

This website is also not about promoting complacency by proclaiming the 2020 election to be the most secure in America’s history. It is demonstrably inaccurate to say that anyone can prove this election was secure at all. If the worst immediate threats (i.e., hacks that would have caused immediate chaos) did not materialize, that does not mean the election was secure; it might mean that no one tried. And it is premature to proclaim that no threats materialized. The canvasses are not even complete; no one has yet audited the election-night vote totals; and no one is even planning to examine the software that counted votes on Election Day.

Explore the links in the menu above for more information.

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