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Election security isn’t complicated—you already know the basics.

When working correctly, computers make many tasks easier, quicker, and more accurate. But even well-managed computers can be accidentally or deliberately mis-programmed. Sometimes they just malfunction.

So managers who use computers need to do two things. First, they need to maintain security. Second, they need to check the computer output to see whether the computer worked as intended.

But unless you’ve been paying very close attention, you probably don’t know all the basics about election security in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin elections use two completely systems: One for voter registration; the other for counting votes.

Wisconsin’s voter-registration system, WisVote, is among the most secure in the nation. It was designed and is owned and operated by the State of Wisconsin, not out-of-state vendors. And it’s protected by the best security feature of all: Same-day registration at the polls. If a computer glitch, human error, or hacked ever does mess up your voter registration record, you will notice as soon as you try to vote. Then you can re-register on the spot. The beauty of that is the deterrence value. Why would hackers mess with a registration system when the worst they can do is irritate the voters?

Wisconsin’s vote-counting system is another story altogether. It’s a stretch even to call it a ‘system.’ Four private companies maintain and program at least 3,500 separate voting machines in more than 1,800 cities, villages, and towns, plus 72 central computers, one in each county elections office. These private companies enforce intellectual-property secrecy to keep anyone from examining the software to assess its security.

Authority to secure the vote-counting machines and their software is fractured. The voting-machine companies control some security; the counties control some; and the municipalities control some. The Wisconsin Elections Commission has no authority to direct or oversee security practices for any of them–company, county, or municipality. They’re each on their own.

The one and only measure that can protect Wisconsin’s final election results is routine hand-counted audits, during the county canvass. These audits need only verify that the right winners were identified, and they must be completed while there is still time to correct any miscounts the audits might discover. National authorities unanimously recommend such audits, and Wisconsin county clerks already have the authority and resources to conduct them—if they choose to do that.

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In particular, check out these five ways any Wisconsin voter can promote secure elections. The first thing we need is for people of good will and civic dedication to get involved with local election administration to make sure current standards and requirements are being met.

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