The cloud over the 17th Senate District Democratic primary, in which missing ballots created a recount that increased uncertainty instead of resolving it, could have a silver lining if we learn its lesson: Election clerks need to conduct routine audits after every election regardless of whether anyone demands a recount.
Routine post-election audits are recommended by every national elections-administration expert, but are not yet common in Wisconsin. We ask our clerks and their volunteer poll workers to run good elections with minimal training, opportunity to practice only four times a year at most, and no routine feedback on whether their efforts produced accurate results. The only time their work is checked is during hurried, high-tension recounts. Normal human beings cannot be expected to master complex procedures under those circumstances.
In no other endeavor in either government or business do we expect people — even full-time professionals — to carry out such important and consequential operations with so little opportunity for assessment and improvement of their skills.
The solution isn’t, as some suggest, turning our elections over to touch-screen voting machines. That does nothing more than give control of our elections to out-of-state computer programmers and whomever hacks in after them, and prevents us from verifying our election results when we want to.
Contrary to what defeatists will claim, running good elections is well within the capabilities of the people of Wisconsin. We need to encourage and support our local elections officials to develop and implement routine quality-control audits following every election. When they find the inevitable error, we need to refrain from criticizing, and instead thank them for finding and fixing the problem. Only with our encouragement and support will our county and municipal clerks be able to discover, understand, and prevent the errors that at best damage voters’ faith and at worst threaten our freedoms by crippling our right to self-government through reliable elections.
Wisconsin Grassroots Network Election Integrity Action Team
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