Election Off By 14,000 Votes Is Troubling


Although the failure of a election clerk to report 14,000 votes during the initial tabulation of the ballots for a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court race was likely caused by loading a blank template into a reporting database, instead of the one that actually contained the votes, it is nevertheless very troubling, and it should give us pause to ask if many more checks and balances are needed to insure the reliability of modern computerized elections.

The Government Accountability Board was correct as they found: “Your failure to post election returns…has significantly undermined public confidence in the conduct of elections in Wisconsin and Waukesha County.” That is an understatement.

While right-wingers may try to solve voter fraud problems that do not exist, or address harmless errors that at best involve only a handful of ballots which would not swing the outcome of an election, our focus should instead be on the sort of template problem reported by the Wisconsin State Journal on Sept. 21, 2011, that led to the 14,000 vote controversy. Such a large number of votes can and would actually change election results.

The first step is for everyone to agree that no system is infallible. Never let a voting machine salesperson ever get away with the pitch that their system was tested over and over and is incapable of error. Systems can and do fail. Let’s agree nothing is fail safe.

Secondly, checks and cross-checks must be implemented. Prior election turnouts in terms of number and percentage should be matched against current returns. Any large deviation from the norm should raise flags and should trigger further checking.

The possibility of a 14,000 vote computer error is far more troubling than some college kid who forgot to bring his photo ID to the polling place. Let’s focus on the things that really matter.

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