Even if the recount of Wisconsin’s election results doesn’t change a single vote, the scrutiny could have one useful side effect: Spotlighting how scattershot the American voting system has become. Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein is leading the effort for a recount after claims surfaced that there was statistical evidence the state’s results were suspicious. Many supporters of the recount worry that Russian hackers might have thrown the contest to President-elect Donald Trump, who won the state by 24,081 votes out of nearly 3 million cast. Skeptics have thrown cold water on the claim, arguing that the data does not support this claim in any convincing way. But right now it’s almost impossible to disprove the suspicion that voting machines were somehow compromised because Wisconsin’s voting machines are so inconsistent from one location to the next.
Elections in Wisconsin are supervised by about 1,850 different municipalities in 72 counties, each of which chose their own voting mechanism. Every municipality uses at least two systems: one for standard voters and another for those who require extra help due to age or a disability. Statewide, there are 16 different models of voting machines in use as well as 813 locations that hand-count most of the ballots, according to the state Elections Commission’s official list of hardware. (Under Wisconsin law, municipalities with populations over 7,500 are required to use electronic voting machines.) In some cases, election officials say, a significant number of people use the more accessible machines even if they don’t require them, but there is no public information on how many voters used each technology.
In fact, there isn’t even a reliable source for how many voters showed up at each location. Many counties neglect to release the results by municipality, and those that do publish this data in a wide variety of convoluted formats.
While the official county tally shows that 10,158 people voted in Adams County, for example, there is no way to know how many of them where in the county’s 12 municipalities that primarily hand-count ballots and how many where in the seven that use an optical scanner for most voters. The Wisconsin Elections Commission’s Elections Supervisor, Ross Hein, told TIME that data on how many ballots were cast on different machines will eventually be released, but not until at least 45 days after the election.
… Data on which machines voters used also typically relies on a third party, the non-profit organization VerifiedVoting, which also shoulders the tedious work of contacting scores of local officials to figure out what devices they use. While their data is impressively complete—and free—it’s unrealistic to expect an independent group to capture the complexity of every jurisdiction across the nation.