The Rock County Clerk’s Office opened its doors to an unusual request Tuesday. A group of six concerned citizens wanted to cross-check Rock County’s election results of last month’s gubernatorial recall election—by hand. The group members, who said they were part of the action group Election Fairness, had filed an open records request July 2 with Rock County and Wisconsin’s 71 other counties. Its members seek to hand-count paper ballots in storage at counties around the state to determine whether results on paper ballots match electronic tabulations that counties used to total votes in the June 5 recall election between Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, said James Mueller of Cross Plains, the group’s attorney. Most Wisconsin municipalities rely on electronic voting machines to tally votes from paper ballots. The electronic totals are recorded and added to late-arriving absentee ballots during a post-election canvass. That’s how counties arrive at official election results that they certify with the state. But members of Election Fairness say they believe electronic vote tabulation could be a flawed system. The group argues electronic voting machines can misread ballots and lead to mistakes that can skew election results.
There is also fear that voting machines can be tampered with, Mueller said. “We’re worried that outsiders or even insiders … that make the machines and maintain them and program them can manipulate the machines to come up with the outcome that they want,” Mueller told WCLO radio in an interview Tuesday. In an interview with The Gazette, Mueller pointed to wide discrepancies in a recount of the state Supreme Court race in 2011. In some counties, sealed bags with ballots were in rough shape, leading some to believe that vote-tabulation machines had been hacked and the paper ballots re-sorted, Mueller said. He also cited the 2011 state Senate recall elections, in which he said thousands of votes were miscounted or uncounted.
The group isn’t sure what the scope of its audit will be, but it plans this week to have dozens of volunteers hand-counting ballots in counties around the state, Mueller said. Election Fairness says it is nonpartisan and affiliated with the action group Wisconsin Citizens for Election Protection. The group decided to start hand-counting ballots in Rock County not because it had an inkling that voter fraud had occurred there but because Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler was the first official to accommodate the group’s request with “few hurdles,” Mueller said. Stottler said she got the same understanding Tuesday when the group showed up to hand-count ballots. “They don’t see any problems within the work ethic of Rock County or the elections workers. They’ve specifically indicated that they think the (electronic) tabulators might not be accurate,” she said.