Self-government means we need to pay attention —
even to the boring parts with no partisan excitement.
You already know that there are people who would, if they could, manipulate vote-counting so that they could select Wisconsin’s next US Senator or decide who gets our electoral votes in the next Presidential election.
You also know that the computers that count our votes are programmed by humans. You know that humans make mistakes and are sometimes dishonest.
And you are not surprised when I point out that no fairy godmother makes sure that all voting systems are always programmed correctly and operate perfectly. To make sure a computer system is secure, its managers need to have the work ethic, honesty, authority, and ability to check to make sure it produced only correct output.
Next question: Do you know which humans, where, program the computers that count Wisconsin votes?
If you think you know, you are wrong. You don’t know. Your local election officials don’t know. No one knows.
The system that creates Wisconsin’s voting-counting software is thoroughly decentralized. Apologists for the current system will tell you this is good because no one is in a position to misprogram every single voting machine. What they won’t tell you is that an election thief wouldn’t need to access every voting machine. A single but well-placed rogue employee in a big voting-machine company could wreak havoc in a Wisconsin election by inserting malicious code into only one computer in, for example, the Milwaukee County Elections Commission, because that one computer is used to program all the voting equipment in the county. And no one in the Milwaukee County Elections Commission–or in any Wisconsin county–has the authority and ability to review the software in a way that ensures it works correctly on Election Day.
The extreme decentralization means that no one is in charge.
- Big companies like Microsoft and Cisco manufacture the operating systems and software used in voting-system components, like the communications system. (And yes, all voting systems used in Wisconsin communicate over the internet–that’s how they report results from 1,800 municipalities so quickly on Election Night.)
- Voting-machine companies like ES&S, Dominion, and ClearBallot manufacture the computers that read the ballots and count the votes in each polling place, and the computers in each county clerk’s office that are used to manage the polling-place equipment and compile results on Election Night.
- Employees in county clerks’ offices and municipal clerks’ offices set the voting systems up for each new election, and are responsible for keeping them secure during and between elections.
None of these companies or clerks has the authority or ability to check on the others–not their employees, not their contractors, not their security measures. Federal and state officials have no authority–none–to oversee the security of the voting-machine software or systems once they’ve been sold to local election officials.
The good news: Election results can be secured anyway. Not the election-night results, which by state law must be reported very quickly without leaving time for anyone to verify their accuracy. But those results are preliminary anyway.
What can be secured, if our election officials choose to do it, are the final election results.
Final, certified vote totals can be absolutely protected from any miscounts or mischief if our local election officials:
- Purchase and use only voting equipment that creates a voter-verified paper record of every ballot; and
- Perform hand-counted audits that verify the correct winners in each race before the county board of canvassers certifies the results (that is, before they declare them officially final.)
That’s it. That is all that needs to be done to render Wisconsin elections completely immune from programming errors and from maliciously misprogrammed computers. National election experts recommend those audits. Other states do them. Any county board of canvass could decide right now, without any additional statutory authority, to add those audits to their routine canvass procedures. The audits could be completed within existing budgets and time limits.
But Wisconsin election officials are not doing those audits. What are the voters going to do about that?
Wisconsin Election Integrity (WEI) was a group of volunteer citizens formed in the Summer of 2012 and active until 2020, which was committed to ensuring that Wisconsin elections reflect the will of the people. Strictly nonpartisan, the group was interested in every aspect of our right to self-government through elections. However, with so very much attention being paid to the more visible parts of the process (e.g., redistricting and the various methods of submitting votes), WEI’s attention was drawn to the neglected area: counting the votes and certifying the correct winners.
WEI, at various times, organized observations of pre-election voting machine tests, county canvass meetings, and post-election audits. They performed public, transparent verification of the voting machine output in Dane County after five elections. In 2017, when it became apparent that the Racine County Canvass had twice certified incorrect results in the 2016 presidential race–once right after the election and then again in the recount–we conducted a citizens’ hand-counted audit to determine the extent of the problem and call attention to the unreliable county canvass procedures (which were typical of those used in other counties.)
Until late 2017, we funded our activities with our personal funds and received logistical support, such as help with this website and publicity, from the Wisconsin Grassroots Network. Later, we conducted a few GoFundMe campaigns.
In 2020, however, nonpartisan civic discussion of election security became impossible. Few voters and even fewer elected officials were able to process any information or arguments that did not have a partisan motive or angle. Editors and reporters were frank in telling us “Unless you have a partisan angle, we’re not interested.” There is now no forum in which solid facts about elections administration can be presented and soberly discussed.
We hope that the information preserved on this website will be of use to others who, in the future, might be motivated to take up the work of securing Wisconsin’s election results, not in the interest of any political party, but with the genuine intent to make sure the voice of the People is accurately certified.