Wisconsin’s audit statute is not binding upon election results and cannot be expanded to a full recount. The audit’s only statutory purpose is to determine the error rate of the voting system. Five percent of statewide reporting units are chosen randomly and hand-counted for the audit, with at least one audit conducted in each county. In 2018, the audit was moved to precede certification. The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) administers the audit.
Unless otherwise specified, statutory references are to Wis. Stat. § 7.08(6).
Voting Systems Used
All jurisdictions use hand marked paper ballots, with some providing ballot marking devices (BMDs) for accessibility and others offering direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) printers. Jurisdictions in Wisconsin use optical scanners or hand counts for tabulation of paper ballots. For the most up to date information please visit Verified Voting’s Verifier.
For an explanation on the types of voting equipment used, click here.
Many but not all machine-tabulated ballots are subject to audit. No mention is made of early, absentee, or provisional ballots in the statute governing audits or in the 2020 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Procedures. The statute requires only that electronic voting systems in each reporting unit be audited.
At least 5% of statewide reporting units are selected for audit, which amounted to a minimum of 184 total reporting units in 2020. As noted in the 2020 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Final Report, the WEC adopted a tiered system for selecting reporting units in 2020. A maximum of four reporting units were eligible for selection in Wisconsin’s two largest municipalities. Three reporting units could be selected in the next 20 most populous municipalities, and a maximum of one reporting unit could be selected in all remaining reporting units in the state. Municipalities selected as part of the audit were chosen randomly. At least one audit is conducted in each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, and a minimum of five reporting units are selected for each piece of voting equipment that records and tabulates votes.
The audit is open to the public. The statute does not explicitly require the WEC to publish results. In practice, it has done so, although not promptly after the audit is completed.
Audit Counting Method
The audit is conducted using a hand count only.
Type Of Audit Units
Wisconsin audits reporting units, defined as “the ward, combination of wards, or other districts by which votes are tallied.” 2020 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Procedures.
Contests & Issues Audited
The audit is only conducted after general elections. In 2020, the WEC selected four contests for audit, including the top contest on the ballot. 2020 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Procedures.
The purpose of the audit is “audit the performance of each voting system used in this state to determine the error rate of the system in counting ballots that are validly cast by electors.” Wis. Stat. § 7.08(6). If the error rate exceeds the rate permitted under standards of the federal election commission in effect on October 29, 2002, “the commission shall take remedial action and order remedial action to be taken by affected counties and municipalities to ensure compliance with the standards” Wis. Stat. § 7.08(6). In determining the voting system error rate, votes are counted as the voting equipment would have counted them: “voter intent is not a general consideration.” 2020 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Procedures.
The audit is not expanded. In the event that a discrepancy between the machine tally and the paper record tally cannot be reasonably explained, the WEC “will request that the voting equipment manufacturer investigate and explain the reasons for any differences between the machine tally and the paper record tally.” 2020 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Procedures. The WEC may then decide to suspend approval of any equipment from any vendor that cannot provide adequate explanations for the discrepancies.
For recount laws, see Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota website.
The audit must be completed prior to certification.
Binding On Official Outcomes
Wisconsin’s audit is not binding upon election results and cannot be expanded to a full recount. The audit’s only statutory purpose is to determine the error rate of the voting system.
Oversight & Conduct
The WEC oversees the audits while local election officials conduct the audits.
During the post-election canvass, inspectors place all ballots they’ve counted in a sealed envelope, which, along with ballots marked “defective” are secured in a locked or sealed ballot container. Wis. Stat. § 7.51(3)(a). All provisional ballots (ballots cast without required identification) are placed into a separate, sealed envelope, which is signed by the chief inspector and two other inspectors but not placed into the ballot container. The inspectors then deliver the ballots to the municipal clerk. Wis. Stat. § 7.51(3)(a).
Additional Targeted Samples
There is no statutory guidance providing for additional targeted samples.