The Wisconsin Elections Commission has received inquiries from various clerks and members of the public requesting permission and guidance with respect to conducting optional post-election audits of election results as part of the county canvass process. Commission staff has prepared the following memo confirming the counties’ ability to conduct such optional audits and providing some suggested steps, methods and timelines for the upcoming Partisan Primary, if your time and resources allow.
With the use of electronic voting equipment becoming more common, and the recent attention given to efforts to interfere with elections in the United States, there has been increasing public demand to ensure that votes have been accurately counted. To that end, various calls have been made to implement safeguards against election hacking, tampering, and inconsistencies. A post-election audit is a tool that could be implemented to confirm that results have been tabulated accurately prior to certification. It is important to note that these optional audit procedures are separate from the mandatory voting equipment audit that is required to be conducted after each General Election.
Local election officials in Wisconsin take great effort to ensure that voting is carried out fairly, freely, and with integrity. Pre-election logic and accuracy testing (the “public test”) is already conducted prior to the election by all municipalities, with an opportunity for the public to observe. Additionally, under Wisconsin law, all voters’ selections are captured on either a paper ballot or a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT). See Wis. Stat. § 5.91(18). For those voters who cast their votes on electronic voting equipment, the equipment generates a complete permanent paper record showing all votes cast by the voter. This paper record is reviewable by the voter before they leave the voting area. These efforts help to instill confidence in the integrity of the election both before Election Day and throughout the voting period. Post-election audits are another tool that could help increase voter confidence in the process.
Post-election audits may help the public to have the opportunity to have the same level of confidence in local election officials and boards of canvass that the WEC has with respect to election results. Post-election audits will showcase the accuracy with which votes are counted in Wisconsin. In the unlikely event that the post-election audit reveals a discrepancy or error, mistakes in the tabulation/counting votes process can be identified and corrected prior to the certification of election results.
OPTIONAL AUDIT PROCEDURES
Interested counties may pilot a post-election audit for the August 14, 2018 Partisan Primary. Commission staff has determined that post-election audits of the election results may be conducted prior to certification of the canvass. If an optional post-election audit is conducted, the County Board of Canvass should take care to secure ballots and other election materials in the event of a recount and ensure that a detailed chain of custody log has been generated.
We recommend one of the two types of audits outlined on the following pages. The following preparations and suggestions are common to both types of post-election audits regardless of which type(s) you choose:
- The post-election audit should be conducted as part of the county canvass to identify any discrepancies.
- The post-election audit may occur regardless of whether votes were cast with paper ballots, electronic voting equipment, or a combination of the two. If a reporting unit with a DRE was selected for audit, the VVPAT should be used for the audit of those results.
- Prepare to carefully document each step of the audit and canvass in the minutes.
- It is important to understand that the audit is based on voter intent. Wis. Stat. § 7.50(2) provides that “All ballots…shall be counted for the person or referendum question for whom or for which they were intended, so far as the electors’ intent can be ascertained…” The voter’s intent should be respected, even if there is failure to properly follow instructions. If the County Board of Canvass determines there is a discrepancy, it is to determine if the discrepancy is due to voting equipment interpretation. It may not be necessary for the BOC to reconvene if the county can determine the source of discrepancy.
- The county should randomly select at least two (2) municipalities by random means to be audited. For example, put all municipality names on equal size pieces of paper and draw from a hat. This selection can take place on the day of the canvass or before by staff (in the event the county wishes to include the selected municipalities on the canvass meeting notice or invite the municipal clerk to observe).
- If the municipality has only one reporting unit, that entire municipality will be selected. If there are multiple reporting units, randomly select one of the reporting units (for example, by drawing numbers from a hat) and that individual reporting unit will be subject to audit. If fewer than 10 ballots were cast in that reporting unit, randomly select a different reporting unit, if possible (to preserve voter anonymity).
- [If a Partisan Primary] Randomly select either Republican Party or Democratic Party (for example, by drawing out of a hat or flipping a coin).
- Randomly select a race from the pool of all contested races on the ballot.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 for each reporting unit selected for audit.
- The County Board of Canvass selects the type of audit to be conducted for each reporting unit and may use either audit method depending on the total ballots cast and the margin between the winner and second-place finisher for the contest selected.
- Once the two reporting units and contests have been determined for audit, proceed with auditing by one of the recommended audit methods below.
Finally, if your county has in the past or chooses to utilize post-election audits for the Partisan Primary, we would love to hear from you. Please provide feedback on the process, the recommended methods below, and any suggestions for improvement. The Wisconsin Elections Commission has requested that staff provide recommendations for post-election audit options at its September 2018 meeting and would appreciate your feedback. Please provide comments to the Elections HelpDesk at email@example.com.
We understand that the County Canvass is quickly approaching and that your situation may not allow for implementation of this post-election audit option in the short timeframe before the canvass. However, you may wish to begin contemplating how a post-election audit could be implemented in the future. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration and your ongoing efforts to keep Wisconsin elections secure. If you are considering conducting a post-election audit or are interested in audit training, please contact the Elections HelpDesk.
Please see Post-Election Audit Options memo attached for full audit procedures.