The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism recently uncovered a disagreement about election security.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell told the reporter that vote-counting systems are protected because they aren’t directly connected to the Internet. If that fails, McDonell believes any hackers will make their work obvious by making extremely Democratic precincts vote Republican.

IT-security experts told the reporter something else. They said that the only fully effective security measure is manually counted audits, using the paper ballots, before election results are declared final.

The experts want paper-ballot audits because they know local election officials cannot protect Election-Night preliminary results from the most likely form of cyber-theft, which does not involve the Internet.

It involves a single voting-machine company insider going rogue. The insider might act on his own or be bribed by a domestic billionaire or a foreign government. He could install remote-access software, as Wisconsin’s major voting-machine supplier has admitted doing in other states. Or he might insert malicious code in updates or during maintenance.

“White-hat” hackers have publicly demonstrated that anyone with authorized access to the machines can alter them. No one would notice the malicious code, because Wisconsin prohibits anyone from examining the software, which local officials don’t have the expertise to do anyway.

The rogue insider won’t create astonishing upsets. He will simply make Republican precincts more Republican or Democratic ones more Democratic. To escape a recount, he will put the race outside Wisconsin’s recount margin. He won’t mess with the ballot counts, because Wisconsin officials audit those. He won’t need to flip votes; he can just reduce one candidate’s vote totals here and there. To cover his tracks, he needs to make the hack operate only on Election Day, not during pre-election testing.

Because Wisconsin officials seal the paper ballots on Election Night, using only the computer tapes during their review, the insider faces no risk of detection.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission has asked for public input on this issue, which they will be discussing at their one remaining meeting before the November election, in September. Email them today at

Tell them either “I’m confident in unaudited election results. Leave things the way they are.” Or tell them, “This voter would be more confident if you told our county clerks to use our paper ballots to check accuracy before they certify.”

Please contact them today. They truly care about voter confidence, and they truly want to hear from you.

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Karen McKim is the coordinator of Wisconsin Election Integrity.


Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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