Neubauer campaign: MEMO: Wisconsin election certification process & historical context

Counties and municipalities across the state began meeting today to certify the canvass results from Tuesday’s election. We expect this process to take place over the next week or more. The Neubauer for Justice team is closely monitoring the results as they come in.

Right now, there is a razor-thin margin separating Neubauer and Hagedorn. This was an incredibly narrow outcome, and some may argue Wisconsin seems to be once again proving its role as the swing state in the country.

Democrat Governor Evers won his race by just over a percentage point last November after Secretary Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election by just under 1 point in 2016—amd as of this moment, Neubauer trails Hagedorn by less than one half of one percent. Looking back at Gore 2000, Kerry 2004, the Attorney General race in 2006, and the Supreme Court race in 2011 for similar, incredibly close results—this is a Wisconsin reality.

Often times during the canvass process changes are made to the Election Night results. Below are several recent examples of ballot irregularities discovered through this process.

Kloppenburg/Prosser Race

Waukesha realized 14K votes had not been in tabulation, swinging results 
In April 2011, Assistant Attorney General Jo-Anne Kloppenburg asked for a recount after losing a state Supreme Court race to Justice David Prosser by 7,316 votes, or a margin of less than 0.5%. Kloppenberg had originally been winning by just over two hundred votes until Waukesha County announced two days after the election that its official tally had failed to include 14,315 votes from the City of Brookfield. [1]

Waukesha accidentally recorded “237” as “37”
In Waukesha County, a clerical error recorded a Prosser vote total as 37 instead of 237. [2]

A glitch excluded 1,100 votes from initial tally in Winnebago County
In Winnebago County, a few municipal voting machines did not communicate to the county due to a glitch, resulting in 1,100 untallied votes. [3]

Additional Mistakes Corrected

Dane County
In 2014, a Stoughton municipal election initially failed to count “hundreds of votes,” possibly due to dust on the scanner. [4]

Jefferson County
29 missing ballots change election result for Assembly race D-43
In November 2006, a recount led to a change in the Jefferson County election results after 29 uncounted ballots were given to election officials. The ballots brought thought-to-be-defeated Kim Hixson ahead of Rep. Debi Towns in the Assembly race for D-43 by nine votes. The 29 missing ballots were handwritten ballots that had been given to voters after one poll station ran out of ballots. The voting machines hadn’t been able to read these ballots and thus they were not counted in the original tally. [5]

Milwaukee County
238 absentee ballots weren’t counted on election night
In November 2004, 238 absentee ballots in Milwaukee were not returned in polls in time to be counted on election night. [6] Computer program leads to 33,000-vote inflation. In 2006, Milwaukee’s unofficial count was more than 33,000 votes too high due to a computer programming error. [7]

Green County
Recount changes election outcome for state senate democratic primary election
In August 2014, the D-17 state senate race held a controversial recount that resulted in Pat Bomhack winning the Democratic primary that he had originally lost by seven votes. The recount gave him a net increase of 40 votes so that Bomhack won by a 33-vote margin. The recount was controversial because the canvassing board had also found that 110 ballots were missing from Green County; the Monroe city clerk said the ballots were either misplaced and destroyed or possibly stolen after polls closed. The canvassing board chose to take no action on this, arguing that even if the missing 110 ballots from Green County had been found, Bomhack still would have won by 3 votes. [8]

(Other irregularities were also present, including an open absentee ballot bag found in Juneau County.) [9]

Portage County
Recount changes the results of a school district election after only absentee votes were counted initially
In March 2006, it was discovered that only absentee ballots had been counted in two school board elections in Portage County. A recount was called in February 2006 after the vote totals seemed suspiciously low. After the recount, one candidate was removed from the winners and a different candidate became one of the top six. It was found that this mistake had also been made in an April 2005 election, but it was deemed too late to change the results. [10]

Racine County
Recount flips election (by net 2 votes)
In a 2005 election for Burlington Area School District, Susan Kessler initially won by a single vote. A recount gave the victory to her opponent by a margin of two votes.

Shawano County
Small town gave President Bush 100 extra votes in 2004
In June 2005, Shawano County told the state Elections Board that a clerical error in Herman, a small town of fewer than 800 people, gave President Bush 100 extra votes in the prior fall’s presidential election. The town of Herman originally said 366 votes went to Bush in November, instead of the correct 266. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel questioned the Herman figures when the firm Wisconsin Voter Lists pointed out the official results showed more votes were cast than the number of people the town said actually came to the polls. Bush lost Wisconsin to Democrat John Kerry by about 11,000 votes, a margin of less than 1 percent. [11]

Taylor County
Software bug for straight-party voting missed 1,500 votes for federal offices
In 2004, a software bug omitted 1,500 votes for federal offices on ballots where a voter took the straight-party option, though this did not change any results. [12]

Wood County
Error correction gave Spiros win in 70th Assembly District GOP primary
In September 2010, an election night data entry discovered during Wood County’s board of canvass vote certification confirmed John Spiros’ 70th Assembly District GOP primary victory. An unofficial vote count following the September 14th primary separated Spiros and his opponent, Stephen Zdun, by only 37 votes. But after the Wood County votes, previously thought to be 1,887 for Spiros and 1,881 for Zdun, were recalculated, the gap widened in favor of Spiros. With both Wood and Portage counties included, the candidates were separated by 60 votes. [13]

Sources: 

  1.  “Kloppenburg seeks recount,” Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/21/2011
  2. “Nickolaus’ vote error hardly common,” Dave Umhoefer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/17/2011
  3. “Nickolaus’ vote error hardly common,” Dave Umhoefer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/17/2011
  4. “Voting Experts: State systems can be hacked,” Grigor Atanesian, Wisconsin State Journal, 7/30/2018
  5. “Misplaced ballots change lead in tight Assembly race,” Dinesh Ramde, AP, 11/8/06
  6. “Nickolaus’ vote error hardly common,” Dave Umhoefer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/17/2011
  7. “Nickolaus’ vote error hardly common,” Dave Umhoefer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/17/2011
  8. “GAB results of recount give Pat Bomhack Democratic primary win in 17th Senate District,” The Chippewa Herald, 8/29/14
  9. “RE COUNT GIVES BOMHACK VICTORY,” Rob Schultz, Wisconsin State Journal, 8/29/2014
  10. “Only absentee ballots counted in two Whiting elections,” AP, 3/5/06
  11. “Small town makes error in Bush vote tally,” Associated Press, 6/8/2005
  12. “Nickolaus’ vote error hardly common,” Dave Umhoefer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/17/2011
  13. “Error correction gives Spiros win in 70th Assembly District GOP primary,” Molly Newman, The Stevens Point Journal, 9/21/2010
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