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. In 2022, 10% of statewide reporting units were 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, though in 2022, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) altered this policy to allow audits to be completed after certification to accommodate possible recounts. The 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 most providing ballot marking devices (BMDs) for accessibility and others offering direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) printers. Most jurisdictions in Wisconsin tabulate ballots using optical scanners, though some jurisdictions with a small number of registered voters hand count 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 absentee or provisional ballots in the statute governing audits. However, the 2022 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Final Report does note that central count tabulators, including those used for absentee ballots, were among the types of equipment audited. The statute only requires that each electronic voting system used in the state be audited.
In 2022, the WEC increased the percentage of reporting units to be audited from 5% to 10%, amounting to 357 reporting units audited statewide. 2022 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Final Report. The WEC utilizes a tiered system for selecting reporting units based on the size of the municipality. In 2022, a maximum of eight reporting units were eligible for selection in Wisconsin’s two largest municipalities (up from four reporting units in 2020). Six reporting units could be selected in the next 20 most populous municipalities (up from three), and a maximum of one reporting unit could be selected in all remaining reporting units in the state. Municipalities are selected 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. 2022 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Final Report.
The audit is open to the public. 2022 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Procedures. 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. The results for the audit of the 2022 general election were presented at the February 2023 WEC meeting.
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.” 2022 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Procedures.
Contests & Issues Audited
The audit is only conducted after general elections. In 2022, the WEC randomly selected three contests for audit, with all federal and state-level contests included as possible selections. The top contest on the ballot, the gubernatorial contest, was included automatically as the fourth audited contest. 2022 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Procedures.
The purpose of the audit is to “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.” 2022 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.” 2022 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 within 30 days of notification.
For recount laws, see Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota website.
In general, the audit must be completed prior to certification. However in 2022, the WEC instituted a new policy that allowed for exceptions to accommodate potential recounts. More details are available in the 2022 Post-Election Voting Equipment Audit Procedures under “Pre-Audit Preparations.”
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 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.
Wis. Stat. §7.08(6): Audit statute
Wis. Stat. § 7.51(3)(a): Ballot protection
Last updated: January 3, 2024