Wisc Election Security for Nov 2018
Wisconsin's voting machines are vulnerable. A national study gave us only a C for election security. The good news is that the problems are fixable--and quickly, if we can get the word out.
Only one critical unprotected risk leaves Wisconsin election results vulnerable to electronic hacking: Our county clerks don't now verify Election-Night vote totals with the paper ballots before they declare the elections final.
If any hackers ever manage to alter Election-Day vote totals, our county clerks wouldn't notice. They would declare the hacked vote totals to be our final, official election results.
Our election clerks already have everything they need to verify accuracy: the paper ballots, enough time, the legal authority. National authorities and their counterparts in other states have developed efficient, economical methods to check voting-machine accuracy after every election.
The problem is our county clerks don't know this. They don't perceive the need for election auditing and they don't know about the solution. Wisconsin has very decentralized elections. It's not the job of the state agency (the Wisconsin Elections Commission) to dictate review practices to the local officials. The county clerks are locally elected, accountable only to the voters.
With only $4,500, we can educate local election officials about both the problem and the solution. We can also pressure on them to adopt modern election-management practices by educating other key local-government officials, key citizens, and local media . If we get the word out this summer, improvements can be before the November 2018 election. Funds will pay for printing, postage, and promotion of the information on social and other media.
The story so far:
It's undeniable that Wisconsin's voting machines sometimes miscount, and that our county officials' review practices (call the 'county canvass') are insufficient to catch and correct these miscounts.
I (Liz Whitlock) knew, from my own observation of the official 2016 recount—in which my team of observers click-counted votes as they were run through the Optech Eagle vote scanning machines—that many valid votes were not being counted.
My partner, Karen McKim, Coordinator of Wisconsin Election Integrity, knew that the Optech Eagle vote scanners were notoriously unreliable for counting all valid votes. We decided we had to do our own hand count, and the video below shows why we had to do this. If you haven't yet seen it, please watch, but be prepared to be outraged—it shows the attitude of election officials toward any sort of audit of their machine-counted results:
Last November's citizen hand count proved everything we set out to prove, and we used the audiovisual equipment obtained with our GoFundMe funds to spread the word. This is one slide of our PowerPoint presentation:
The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted to decertify the Optech Eagle scanners—but not until after the November 2018 election! (These very old machines would no longer have parts or service available after Descember 2018 anyway.)
Despite widespread concern about election security, most state and local elections officials are still showing no sense of urgency to implement even the simplest audit procedures, such as those we demonstrated in our hand count.
What we're planning now:
The only way to secure Wisconsin's elections is to manually audit the voting machines' totals, using our paper ballots. The only way to get those audits done is to pressure our local election clerks to do them.
Wisconsin Election Integrity, a nonpartisan citizens group formed in 2012, is ready to launch a statewide publicity campaign to educate both voters and local election clerks about this practical safeguard. We have a glossy, professional-quality, independently fact-checked brochure ready to mail and a social-media strategy to get the word out.
We will be bringing pressure on the Wisconsin Elections Commission to support the local clerks in adopting audit practices; on the county clerks to improve their procedures; and on voters to call their county clerks to insist on verified accuracy.
Your contribution will help to cover printing, postage, and paid promotions, plus a few administrative costs like rental of a post-office box. We need your help to do this!
Anyone who donates even $5 will be able to request either a paper copy of our brochure via snail mail or a PDF emailed to you, with our permission to reproduce it yourself if you want to spread the word even further, once we achieve our goal. Thanks for your concern about the integrity of our elections!
Here is the trifold brochure:
The municipal clerks in charge of these randomly-selected voting machines will be ordered to complete the audits BEFORE the election results are declared final.
No other security measure comes close to the value of paper ballots and routine, manually counted audits, in terms of protecting final election results from tampering and in building voter confidence. They are the keystones of any election-security program.
But before today, Wisconsin's failure to use its paper ballots in routine, pre-certification audits kept our election security ranked in the lower half of all states'.
The WEC fixed that today. By ordering at least 1 in every 20 machines audited promptly after Election Day, the WEC moved Wisconsin into the top 10 or 12 states.
The audit program still isn't perfect. Along with other problems, it lacks a clear policy regarding when clerks can let small discrepancies slide and when they should expand the audit to more machines. Instructions about investigating discrepancies are still limited to "Ask the vendor what happened." The policy applies only to November elections; primaries and nonpartisan elections will remain unaudited. Several other states still do more to verify that they are always declaring the correct winners.
But today's decision was a solid, valuable step in deterring hackers and making sure any serious unintended miscounts are caught and corrected. Yesterday, Wisconsin was among the states that didn't bother to audit computer-tabulated vote totals, and today, we're among those that do.
Email the Commission at email@example.com to thank them, and encourage them to keep going until Wisconsin's election security is as good as any!
In light of this memo having come out, Karen McKim will be revising the brochure we still plan to send out. It will serve to reinforce the case for audits which the WEC has now taken the lead on, plus it will be sent to Municipal Clerks as well as County Clerks, which the WEC memo was not. (It was directed only toward County Clerks.)
Since we have not yet reached our GoFundMe goal, we have decided to donate ourselves the difference between what we have and what we need. We will keep the GoFundme going, not only for the other expenses we will have, but also to reimburse our own substantial contributions, at least in part. To have come this far and not have achieved our major goal would be out of the question!
Once we have the revised brochure completed and ready to mail, we will send the PDF out to all of you. Thanks again for your important part in this work!
Just today I was interviewed by CBS 58 News in Milwaukee, prompted by the above article, on the subject of post-election audits. It will air tonight (Monday, July 30) on the 5:00 news. Our message is simple: We know Russians have been trying to hack into our elections, but we should have assumed this all along, and we still need to assume this, as any competent IT manager would. The solution to this problem, however, is relatively simple: we need to have post-election audits right after every election in which votes are hand-counted to verify that machines are identifying the correct winners. This is being done in at least 25 other states and Wisconsin can do it, too. We have the paper ballots and we have the canvass period in which to do this. Election clerks by statute have the power to conduct such audits, although they are not now required to, but most are reluctant to do so. This would be the best way to secure our elections against hacking (not to mention a multitude of other kinds of errors) and would rebuild public confidence in our elections. Everyone can understand counting, and if it's done publicly and transparently, we will have no doubt our election process is working. Call or email the Wisconsin Elections Commission and your County Clerk to let them know this is what we need and want!