The Wisconsin Elections Commission has received inquiries from several 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 for the November General Election. This memorandum confirms the counties’ ability to conduct such optional audits and provides some suggested steps, methods and timelines for the upcoming General Election. At its September 25, 2018 meeting, the Commission encouraged counties to consider implementing audits as part of their canvass procedures, if their 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 confirm 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 voters before they leave the voting area. These security requirements 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 same level of confidence in local election officials and boards of canvass that the WEC has with respect to election results. Post-election audits help 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 November 6, 2018 General Election. 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.
Staff recommends the full hand tally option found on the succeeding pages. (Staff previously provided a “ballot polling” option, which some counties may opt to use, but which staff has removed from the formal guidance in order to further study the methodology and solicit feedback). The following preparations and suggestions are recommended:
- 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 municipal BOC to reconvene if the county can determine the source of discrepancy.
- The county should randomly select at least two 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).
- Randomly select a race from the pool of all contested races on the ballot.
- Repeat step 3 for each reporting unit selected for audit.
- The County Board of Canvass selects the type of audit to be conducted for each reporting unit, such as the one recommended in this guidance, or another method.
- Once the two reporting units and contests have been determined for audit, proceed with auditing.
Finally, if your county has in the past or chooses to utilize post-election audits, we would love to hear from you. If you are considering conducting a post-election audit or are interested in audit training, please contact the Elections HelpDesk. After your audit, please provide feedback on the process, the recommended method below, and any suggestions for improvement. Please provide comments to the Elections HelpDesk at email@example.com.
Counties will be reimbursed for reasonable costs associated with a post-election audit, similar to the reimbursement allowed for the voting equipment audit. Specifically, the Commission authorized up to $300 per county for actual costs incurred (above and beyond the costs of the county canvass) and will consider reimbursement requests over this amount. Staff intends to seek additional authorization for county reimbursements to cover the costs of additional reporting unit audits or costs per reporting unit exceeding $300, at the Commission’s December meeting. The reimbursement will come from the 2018 HAVA Election Security Funds. Please submit requests for reimbursement to the HelpDesk.
We understand that the planning for an election can be demanding and stressful, however, we hope you will thoughtfully consider implementing or piloting a form of post-election audit as part of your county canvass, if you do not do so already. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration and your ongoing efforts to keep Wisconsin elections secure.
Please see the attached memo for full Recommended Method: Full-Hand Tally of Selected Reporting Unit