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REVISED -- Election Night Results Reporting

Posted in
High Priority
March 21, 2017
Wisconsin County Clerks
Wisconsin Municipal Clerks
City of Milwaukee Election Commission
Milwaukee County Election Commission
Michael Haas, Interim Administrator
Juanita Borton, WisVote Trainer
Ann Oberle, WisVote Testing Lead
Election Night Results Reporting Guidance (REVISED).pdf75.09 KB

At its March 17, 2017 meeting the Wisconsin Elections Commission (“WEC” or “Commission”) concluded that under the requirements of 2015 Wisconsin Act 261 the results of local contests, including school district contests and contests for special districts such as sanitary districts, must be included in the unofficial Election Night returns posted by county clerks two hours after receiving them from the municipalities.  The Commission also directed WEC staff to provide additional instructions and assistance to county and municipal clerks to ensure that returns are provided and posted in a timely and accurate manner.  The requirements apply to the April 4, 2017 Spring Election.  This memo explains the requirements and provides suggestions for how clerks may meet the requirements.

Returns required to be posted

The Commission’s directive is based upon the statutory language found in Wis. Stats. §§7.51(4)(c) and 7.60(1):   

  • 7.51(4)(c) On election night the municipalities shall report the returns, by ward or reporting unit, to the county clerk no later than 2 hours after the votes are tabulated.
  • 7.60(1) KEEP OFFICE OPEN.  On election night the county clerk shall keep the clerk’s office open to receive reports from the ward inspectors and shall post all returns.  On election night the clerk shall post all returns, by ward or reporting unit, on an Internet site maintained by the county no later than 2 hours after receiving the returns.  (Emphasis added).

The statutory language does not list any exception to the requirement to post all returns.  The Commission has concluded, therefore, that the term “all returns” includes federal, state, county and local contests and referenda.  Local contests include contests for school districts and special districts such as sanitary districts.  The results must be posted by ward or reporting unit.  For local contests that cross county lines, counties are only responsible for posting results for the wards or reporting units within their own county.  There is no obligation to provide tabulated total results for local contests, school districts or other districts that cross county lines.  

Some clerks have inquired as to whether the requirement for county clerks to post all returns applies to write-in candidates, either registered write-in candidates or other write-in candidates whose votes are tallied because there are not candidates on the ballot for a particular office.  Posting results for write-in candidates on Election Night creates a unique and significant challenge because it is not possible to adjust compilation systems if there is a last-minute registered write-in candidate or a non-registered write-in candidate who was unknown at the time of voting equipment programming but whose votes must be tallied.  The best practice is to attempt to post results for write-in candidates when those votes are tallied, but clerks may use their best judgment in determining whether this is feasible given individual circumstances and available resources on Election Night.
The requirements apply only to the posting of “unofficial” results on Election Night.  There is no specific timeframe for how long the result must remain posted, and the statutes do not establish an ongoing requirement to continuously update local results that were originally posted on Election Night.  As with any Election Night results, we recommend posting a disclaimer explaining that Election Night results are unofficial results.  The following is an example of the type of disclaimer a county could post on Election Night:

All Election Night returns are unofficial.  For complete and final results for local or school district contests contact each local municipal clerk and/or the school district clerk.

Many counties choose to update and post the results of the contests canvassed by the county after they have been certified.  Counties may, but are not required to post certified results of local contests if they receive those certified results from municipalities or other local boards of canvass.  You may wish to remove any unofficial results from your website once you have posted certified results.

Election Night Procedures

Many counties currently receive and post local results on Election Night and already meet the statutory requirements.  However, a significant number of counties have reported to the Commission that they either do not currently receive local results or do not post them on Election Night.  For these counties the requirements will have a significant impact on their current Election Night procedures. To assist clerks in meeting the requirements for the April 4, 2016 Spring Election, WEC staff is outlining several options and providing the accompanying instructions for using the WEC Canvass Reporting System (CRS) reports for reporting unofficial election night results.

1.    Posting the Election Night Call-In Return Sheet (Blank) with hand written results from the polling place.

One way to meet the election night reporting requirement is to simply post an image of the call-in sheet used by the municipality for calling in results to the county.  The Election Night Call-In Return Sheet (Blank) report in CRS is a call-in sheet template that can be printed from CRS (see attached CRS instructions).  The Election Night Call-In Returned Sheet (Blank) lists all contests and candidates, including write-in candidates that have been entered into WisVote for an election.  The Election Night Call-In Return Sheet (Blank) can be filled out by the election inspectors and returned to the county by email, fax or hand delivered.  An image of the call in sheet can be posted on the Internet in addition to the reports that a county normally uses to post election night results.

2.    Entering Municipal, School District and Sanitary District contests into CRS and posting CRS reports

Another option for collecting and posting unofficial Election Night results is to directly enter results reported from the municipalities into CRS and print or export reports from CRS for posting on the county website. Attached to this memo are instructions for entering results for local contests into CRS and printing reports.  All counties are familiar with entering federal and state election results in CRS.  Entering results for local contests works the same way, and now, because all contests and candidates are entered in WisVote, CRS can be used for collecting election results for all returns.  

A number of counties already use CRS to gather and report unofficial Election Night results.  The key to using this method is to have adequate staff available on Election Night.  Some counties have made arrangements where municipalities enter Election Night results directly into CRS.  This option requires fewer county data processing staff, but the required municipal training may not be feasible to complete in time for the April 4, 2017 Spring Election.  

Instructions for entering data directly into CRS and printing or exporting CRS reports accompany this memo.  Clerks are NOT required to enter local results into CRS and are not required to certify local results. If you are interested in using CRS for Election Night reporting and have any questions on using CRS reports, or if you wish to have local clerks assist in entering Election Night results in CRS, please contact Ann Oberle at or (608) 264-6764.


While many clerks may already have systems in place for reporting all returns on Election Night, the Commission understands the concerns expressed by clerks about the additional burdens placed on their staff by the new reporting requirements, and the problems that can be caused by posting inaccurate or incomplete results.  As always, we stress that it is more important to be accurate than fast on Election Night.  We hope that this memo will assist you in your Election Night planning.  

Thank you for your continued work and please contact the WEC Help Desk at (608) 261-2028 or if you have any questions regarding Election Night Results reporting or other issues that arise.