Open ballot bags, mistallied ballots, high undervote rate, observation obscured and other unreported concerns...
By eowyn_of_rohan on 5/11/2011, 1:02pm PT  

- Guest blogged by "eowyn_of_rohan"

[Ed Note: The following account from an observer at Milwaukee County's machine "recount" of ballots from Wisconsin's April 5th Supreme Court election between incumbent Republican David Prosser and independent Asst. Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg comes on the heels of recently documented reports of complete chain of custody violations such as "wide open" ballots bags in Waukesha County --- where the stunning announcement of the addition of some 14,000 votes two days after the election reversed the originally reported results to give Prosser the unofficial lead over Kloppenburg for the 10-year seat on the state's highest court --- as well as earlier reports of ballots discovered unsecured for weeks in Dane County's city of Verona and unexplained variances in "recount" results as reported during the "recount" by the WI Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.), the state's chief election agency. Thousands of ballots have so far been discovered to have been originally miscounted to date, even with just a minority of counties actually bothering to count ballots by hand during the "recount." - BF]

I worked on the recount in Milwaukee County last Thursday, and it was quite a disturbing and stifling experience. I left there puzzled and frustrated, and have been searching for news on 'anomalies' there, but find next to nothing. News reports have only stated there have been "no major problems," and things are "going smoothly"...

Kloppenburg stated at her recount request press conference:

There are legitimate and widespread questions about the conduct of this election – most visibly in Waukesha County, but also in counties around the state...We are aware of widespread anomalies that occurred...: an undervote in the cities of Milwaukee and Racine; the Waukesha situation; reports of long lines and photocopied ballots in several counties including Fond du Lac; significant changes in the vote totals in Winnebago County.

People have wondered if Waukesha County 'irregularities' were perhaps a red herring, and that maybe we should be looking more closely at what's happening in other counties around the state. I really think so. I've compiled some information on the recount problems in Milwaukee County, many of which I witnessed.

It's important to understand that, in Milwaukee, as in 41 of Wisconsin's 72 counties, ballots are being "recounted" by the same optical-scan machines that tallied them in the first place, unlike the hand-counts that have been the focus of attention elsewhere. It can be very difficult to oversee that type of "recounting." Moreover, while ballots bags have been seen as opened, and their chain of custody violated in the process, in counties such as Waukesha, and stacks of ballots discovered unsecured in Dane County's City of Verona, parts of Milwaukee's count also included bags that were improperly sealed, with the secure chain of custody broken and uncertain.

I also observed a surprising number of undervoted ballots and, as disturbingly, machine tallies at the "recount" which under-reported the results for Kloppenburg as I was able to observe them on ballots before they were fed into the machines.

Some observations detailed below are more significant than others, and this is by no means a comprehensive list, so please feel free to add to it if you have additional info...


The Milwaukee County recount took place in the gloomy Franklin Sports arena. First off, why didn't they hold it in a place more accessible to the public? This was out on the western edge of a suburb, with no public transportation access that I could see.

Inside the arena they had set up a large metal barricade, guarded by security police, that served to separate the Public Viewing Area from the Counting Area. For the record, each county has a barrier of some type for this purpose. The public has a right to observe procedures but cannot walk among the counting tables. You have to be a designated rep for either Kloppenburg or Prosser to observe within the counting area.

Here was the problem in Milwaukee Co: The barricade was set up at LEAST 20 yards away from the tables - WAY too far away to be able to view the counting and reconciling procedures that were taking place. In comparison, in Dane Co. the distance is about 10 feet, and in Waukesha you literally stand 1 foot away from the counting tables.

Granted, after the City of Milwaukee (the largest municipality in Milwaukee County) finished their recount, there were many unneeded tables within this corral. But no effort was made to remove the now unnecessary tables, and move the barricade in.


When I arrived to work, I was told by the Kloppenburg observer rep on duty that we couldn't go into the counting area until another Kloppenburg observer left. This was different from what I had experienced at the Dane Co. recount, where there were often 2 or even 3 designated reps per party observing each table. (That was very helpful, as we could work in teams of 2 and be able to compare notes, relieve each other for a short time, etc.)

The security guards had said we could go in if we had a Kloppenburg pass, so I was curious as to the disparity. I was told that the Prosser camp had thrown a "fit" and demanded only 1 designated observer at a time, per party, per table be allowed inside the counting area. We were told we could only stand in the public viewing area, from where we could see nothing. I asked if there was a regulation that covered this issue, but the person I spoke with was unable to provide a concrete answer.


Our recount observer guide stated we could roam freely among the tables, and get as close as we need to, as long as we didn't get in anyone's way. This is how it worked in Dane Co. But in Milwaukee Co., observers were told they couldn't count from the same side of the table as the "tabulators." [ed note: In Wisconsin, that's the term used for the people doing the counting or, in the case of counties who are using machines to "recount," feeding ballots into machines.] They had to stand across the table from the "tabulators." This means the observer is viewing the ballots UPSIDE DOWN.

In addition, Prosser lawyers had a special table within the corral which we were told was 'OFF LIMITS' - "Do not go near their table." Kloppenburg lawyers, fewer in number by far, had no such table, but I suppose this was a matter of choice.


I was the only designated Kloppenburg rep observing the machine recount who had a click counter that afternoon (another reason it helps to have more observers in there!), so I monitored the two machine recounts that took place that afternoon. I had no trouble counting along with the first one (though other problems are described in next section). The SECOND one was quite different.

At about 4pm, I took over for someone who was leaving. As she passed her notes to me, we realized they had already started the machine recount without due notice or any observers present (not even from Prosser's camp - who, in fact, NEVER showed up for this count). We IMMEDIATELY bolted to the machine, but the "tabulator" was feeding the ballots through extremely fast, plus used her body and hands to try to obscure my view. I had to constantly move up and down, side to side to try to see the ballot.

We asked her to slow down several times, but she told us they had to be done by 6:00 pm and that she would NOT slow down.

I was surprised to find a Daily Kos account of someone who had this same problem, on the same day, in Milwaukee Co. They must have been there in the morning, as (already stated) I was the only one tallying the machine recounts with a clicker by afternoon. This part describes my experience precisely:

Armed with my "clicker", I was horrified to see them feed the ballots in to the machine so quickly that the vote couldn't even be seen by me, much less counted. A pile was placed just below the ballot intake slot and one ballot after another was fed in as fast as the machine could take it with the ballot being fed in obscuring seeing the ballot below it. When the next ballot was obtained, the fast movement into the machine precluded seeing the vote as the ballot was moved so quickly and sucked into the machine. Since the votes in the Supreme Court election were at the top of the ballot, no visual record could be made...

(Aside - This tactic was used also in OZAUKEE County, and attorneys had to be called in on multiple days.)

My "relievee" went to get the attorney. From the point he intervened the "tabulator" begrudgingly complied, so I was able to keep an accurate count with my clicker, though I had no idea how many ballots had already gone through and was dismayed that my vote count was inaccurate from the start.


When the machine recount was complete, I had counted 11 more votes for Joanne Kloppenburg than the machine had counted (there may have been more had I been allowed to start at the beginning). There were many more votes in this Wauwatosa ward for Prosser than for Kloppenburg, so it was easy to keep up using the clicker. I am confident my count was accurate from the time they slowed down.

The reason I think the count was off was that a number of ballots were filled out lightly in PENCIL. I also noted one ballot had a line that didn't completely connect the arrow. That would keep the machine from reading the ballot properly. I'd love to know which precinct gave voters pencils instead of markers.

The votes the machine didn't count are lost. Those ballots are NOT taken back out to be hand counted. This shows that with a machine counting our votes, many votes are lost and many voters disenfranchised.

About the Machine: These ballots were counted on a Sequoia Optech Insight electronic optical-scan machine [PDF]. There were constant troubles with it throwing out error messages, due to minuscule dots, smudges, and sometimes no visible problem. I was told that meant the problem (mark, smudge, whatever) was on the BACK of the ballot (which we weren't shown).

If the machine rejected a ballot, the "tabulator" would re-feed the ballot into the machine multiple times to try to get it to register. They were supposed to give it 3 tries, and if it didn't take, the ballot was to be set aside to be hand counted. But many times the "tabulator" would try 5 or 6 times before setting it aside --- sometimes it took, sometimes not. This happened so frequently that the counting process was slowed down considerably.

It seemed it would have been faster to recount them all by hand.

6) LARGE NUMBER OF UNDERVOTES for SUPREME COURT RACE (DU) user "gkhouston" asked me to keep an eye out for undervotes. I did notice something odd. During both machine recounts I observed that day, I noticed a number of surprising ballots that didn't have a vote for the Supreme Court race, but DID have a vote for Chris Abele --- the Democratic candidate for Milwaukee County Executive --- on the top right side of the ballot. I wasn't keeping a true count, but there must have been at least 20 of these undervotes.

Now I wonder why we were warned NOT to count anything but the SC race! As was noted by someone earlier, if the SC votes are correct to the tapes, but another race isn't, that would be verrrry interesting.

Chris Abele ended up winning the race for Milwaukee County Executive, defeating Republican Jeff Stone. This is the position previously held by Governor Scott Walker "whose controversial anti-union law has sharply divided the state." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Seems extremely odd to me that a person would be aware of and support this candidate but not take the opportunity to also vote for Kloppenburg!

WHY DID ONLY 57% of VOTERS VOTE FOR KLOPPENBURG? Beats me, in a heavily-unionized area, where the voters voted for Obama by a 6.5% larger margin (my understanding). Another DU'er (sorry forgot name!!) said, "Undervotes in Milwaukee and Racine were reported, which may have reduced vote totals in the Supreme Court race. For example, Milwaukee reported roughly 2,000 more votes for county executive than for the Supreme Court. Those undervotes could be intentional or they could be due to malfunctioning machines or other errors."


I already reported on this here with pics.

In short, I noticed a large number of uncounted ballot bags from Wauwatosa, lined up against the wall in stacks. At least 6 of the bags in the front row were improperly sealed, with very large openings of appx 8" on each side of the tags. It was impossible to tell how many more bags were unsecured in this manner behind those in front.

DU'er "Lefta Dissenter" also said earlier last week that in Milwaukee Co., "there have been little stacks of ballots just sitting on the top of the voting machines in something like 8 different wards, bags not sealed well - again, the openings large enough to stick one's hand in the top of the bag to access ballots."

A version of this report was originally posted at Democratic Underground...

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