We're just back in town, with lots of catchup work to do. But with Wisconsin's Recall Elections tomorrow, here are some important actions that folks (of any party!) who care about accurate election results can do to help protect the election results.
Remember, WI mostly votes on paper ballots. Unfortunately, however, most of those paper ballots are tabulated in secret inside of computers systems similar or identical to ones which have failed time again elsewhere, as seen most recently in places like Palm Beach County, FL and New York City. In WI, there is no mandated manual examination of paper ballots after the computer tabulates them in order to make sure they were tabulated accurately. That's a very bad (and dangerous) system.
In Palm Beach, several candidates incorrectly declared to be the "winners" by the Sequoia Voting Systems optical-scan tabulation computers in a March election this year had, in fact, been the losers of their races. The failure was discovered during a manual post-election spot-check of a tiny percentage of the paper ballots. WI does no such post-election spot-check of ballots to test the accuracy of their computer systems. Only a full hand-count of all the paper ballots in the Palm Beach elections revealed the correct winners. The identical tabulation system are used in WI's very Republican-leaning Waukesha County, as well as elsewhere in the state.
In New York City, it took nearly two years, but finally last month, ES&S, the company which manufacturers the paper-ballot optical scanners now used there, admitted that it was a flaw in their scanners which led to thousands of votes going uncounted during the 2010 elections. The company admitted to the system failure after the New York Daily News confirmed an error rate of 70% during the primary election and 54% in the general election in just one precinct in the South Bronx after a public records request and hand-count of the paper ballots. Those same flawed systems, the ES&S model DS200 paper-ballot op-scan system, are used in much of Lincoln, Portage and Wood Counties in WI.
There are many other systems used across the Badger State which have similarly failed in election after election. As always, "Democracy's Gold Standard" is a full public hand-count of ballots by actual human beings on election night, at the precinct, in front of all parties and video cameras, with results posted right there before ballots are moved anywhere. Unfortunately, that is rarely, if ever, done in Wisconsin. So it's up to you to try and help ensure the results on Tuesday are as accurate as possible, at least until those paper ballots are actually hand-counted and confirmed to have been tabulated accurately --- if they ever are.
To that end, here's a few things you can do tomorrow in Wisconsin (and one thing you can do even if you're not in Wisconsin), to help cover at least a few of the bases where computer tabulation systems can either be gamed or might simply malfunction to report inaccurate results...
• Vote on a paper ballot! Despite the fact that they are often mis-tabulated by computers, as noted above, at least it may be possible to count a paper ballot by hand at some point to determine that it has been tabulated accurately. If you vote on a touch-screen voting system, it will be 100% impossible to ever know that any vote cast on such a system was recorded accurately. If your municipality has touch-screens for you to vote on, request politely but firmly to vote on a paper ballot instead!
• Be at the polls with cameras when they close! Election Integrity expert John Washburn, of Fair Elections Wisconsin, advises that voters should go to polling places just before they close in order to oversee the poll closing process and the printing of results from computer tabulators there.
"Show up for the closing of the elections at eight-o'clock. At that point it's an open meeting, turn on the camera," Washburn told us recently. Once polls close, he notes, the proceedings are then an open meeting by the local board of canvassers which may be recorded by cameras and other devices.
Photograph and/or video-tape the results poll tapes that are printed out by the computers, and anything else you can see. You never know when/if that material may come in handy later. Photos of poll tapes won't ensure the computers tabulated the ballots correctly, but they can help deter the possibility of results being changed later by the central tabulator systems or even on Internet election results reporting websites.
"Record what you see," at the polls, Washburn strongly advises. "If you see anything weird, insist that it be put on the Inspector's Report, because if it ain't on the official election report, it didn't happen." (Inspector's Reports can be printed out here, in case you wish to bring one to the polls.)
• Report any problems you witness If you have a problem voting, or see anything that is troubling, document it as best as possible. As mentioned above, try to see that it gets into your local Inspector's Report at the precinct. But then be sure to report it to the WI Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.) at 866-VOTE-WIS and via email at email@example.com. We recommend you also file another report at the independent national voter problem hotline: 866-OUR-VOTE.
• Take screenshots of results at home As results are being reported online throughout the night, use your computer to take screenshots of them. Results have a way of magically flipping at various points in the night. But if that can't be proven, it's difficult to demand an explanation for the anomaly later. Add a date and time-stamp to the filename of the graphic when you save the screenshots while viewing them. Again, you never know when or if they will come in handy later! This is something you do not have to be in Wisconsin to do!
The points above, in case you are wondering, are all non-partisan. If you doubt that, please note that Washburn, a long time trusted Election Integrity colleague of ours is a Republican. Anyone interested in Election integrity, from any or no party at all, can take the steps mentioned above to help try to assure that the candidates announced the winners after tomorrow's elections are the ones that actually received the most votes.
And thanks for your help! And please pass around the link to this article!