Wisconsin Elections Commission chair Mark Thomsen says the presidential recount is an insult to the state’s poll workers and county and municipal clerks.
“To say that we didn’t count them correctly the first time or that somehow there were illegal votes being counted is really inappropriate,” Thomsen said at a Nov. 28 commission meeting to determine a timeline for the recount, which has been requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Thomsen is the Democratic appointee to the newly formed election commission that replaced the Government Accountability Board. Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature eliminated the board last session and replaced it with the partisan ethics and elections commissions.
The election commission met for the first time on June 30 and now will oversee the state’s first presidential recount. Thomsen says he is confident it will be done properly and on time. Although he doesn’t expect the results to change, he believes there could also be an upside to the effort.
“If nothing else this is going to give us a very good audit; it is going to reassure Wisconsin voters that we have a fair system, that we are not counting illegal votes, we’re not counting dead people’s votes,” Thomsen said.
Karen McKim, who lost a challenge against Dane County Clerk against Scott McDonell on a platform of verifying election results, says a recount is the only way for voters to ensure integrity.
“I find it unacceptable that voters are practically forced to allege fraud before they can get the election officials to check the accuracy of the results,” says McKim. “I don’t like recounts, but until they build verified election results into the procedures, they are going to have people alleging fraud.”
She wants officials to randomly verify by hand a number of voting machines for every election. “The American Statistical Association has developed a method called ‘risk-limiting auditing’ that is recommended by every national elections administration expert,” she says. “That has a different sample size for every race depending upon how many ballots and the margin of victory of what the machines reported.”
On Nov. 29, Stein’s campaign paid the original estimated $3.5 million it will cost to the state. The estimate has since gone up to $3.9 million, but the state has ordered the counting to begin Dec. 1 and under federal law it must be completed by Dec. 13. The state will either bill or refund Stein’s campaign, depending on the actual cost.
Stein asked that the recount be done by hand, but the election commission unanimously rejected her request. On Nov. 28, Stein filed a lawsuit trying to force a hand count — and Hillary Clinton’s campaign later filed a motion in support. In a Nov. 29 hearing, three witnesses who were deemed experts in computer science, statistics and voting integrity testified that there would be no way to rule out hacking or malfunctions of voting machines without doing a hand count.
Although Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn agreed that a hand count would be the most accurate, she rejected the request because it did not meet the burden of proof in state statute.
Election commission administrator Michael Haas says without a hand count, the most populous counties estimate the recount will take five to six days while smaller counties are estimating it will take three to four days. However, Thomsen says it took about a month to complete the last recount in 2011 for the state Supreme Court race, even though that involved far fewer votes.
Haas says it’s unlikely that fraud swung Wisconsin’s election for Trump. All voting machines are tested and certified at the federal level for technical and security standards, he says. The election commission also tests equipment to ensure compliance with state laws.
And municipal and county clerks test each voting machine within 10 days of an election, Haas adds.
“There are a number of reasons why we are skeptical of any claims that voting equipment is either not working correctly or being tampered with,” Haas said, explaining that counties use different brands of voting equipment, none of which are connected to the internet or linked.
“An individual would need to have unfettered physical access to voting equipment and to be able to enter the locked cabinet where the software memory device is located,” Haas said. “To do that once and not be detected is hard to do, but to do that throughout the state with a variety of different equipment seems very unlikely.”
But McKim says without verifying election results, no one can say for sure. “It is ridiculous for anyone to stand up and declare the Nov. 8 election results are hacked, and it is ridiculous for anyone to say they are confident that they are accurate,” McKim says. “No one has checked yet, and until someone checks everyone is irresponsible for declaring either accuracy or inaccuracy.”
“Voters are sensible to ask whether the voting machine output is accurate,” says McKim, adding that ATMs, casino slot machines and store scanners are all routinely checked for accuracy. She says there remain many scenarios where equipment could be tampered with or corrupt officials could manipulate vote tallies.
“There are all sorts of vulnerabilities that the county clerk, municipal clerk, the poll worker, none of them have full control of,” she adds. “It is just outside their control, given that they need to audit the results, and if no one audits the results, then there is going to be suspicion of fraud, and there are going to be recounts.”