Wisconsin’s Dramatic Vote Swings Raise Election Integrity Concerns

October 24, 2014 by Marianne Moonhouse and Barbara With

Craig Gilbert’s recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Wisconsin’s red-blue swings offer a map to victory for each party” is a rather unusual “Get Out the Vote” message.

Election Integrity advocates may see this not so much as a map to victory than as a blueprint for election fraud that has likely been taking place right under our noses for many years.

In Wisconsin there are three options for casting and counting votes:

Optical Scanner. More votes are cast on paper ballots counted by optical scan machines than by other voting methods. They are primarily used in larger towns and cities across Wisconsin. Problems with optical scanners include:

Edge Touchscreen Voting Machine. Ask for a paper ballot instead of voting on one of these.

Edge Touchscreen Voting Machine. Ask for a paper ballot instead of voting on one of these.

Touch-screen voting machines. The technology in the computer cartridges used to program these machines—known as “prom pacs” or memory cards—is considered “proprietary information” and the public is not allowed to examine them. With no verifiable paper trail, we cannot know if our votes are being accurately counted.

In 2004, a computer programmer named Clint Curtis who worked for NASA testified before a House Judiciary Committee that he had been hired by Florida Republican Tom Feeney to write a program to steal votes by inserting fraudulent code into touch-screen voting systems. Since then, evidence has accumulated demonstrating that voting machines can be and in fact have been hacked.

The Vulnerability Assessment Team (VAT) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois hacked into a Diebold Accuvote touch-screen voting machine with just $26 and an 8th grade science education.

In 2008 the Sequoia AVC Edge touch-screen DRE voting machine was used in jurisdictions throughout the U.S. with almost 9 million voters. Alex Halderman and Ari Feldman replaced the voting software with Pac-Man. They did this in three afternoons, without breaking any tamper-evident seals. According to Halderman and Feldman, it would have been easy to modify the software to steal votes, but that’s been done before, and Pac-Man was more fun.    

Hand-Counted Paper Ballots (HCPB). While the option of casting a vote on a hand-marked, hand-counted paper ballot is available in over 40 Wisconsin Counties, an extremely low percentage of voters take advantage of it. Often this is due to pressure by clerks and poll workers to use touchscreen machines, which have no credible paper trail.

Even paper ballots, absentee ballots and other election-day documentation are subject to security breaches via human error or malicious intent. During the Supreme Court Election Recount of 2011 and the recall elections of 2011 and 2012, poll watchers witnessed countless examples of ripped open ballot containers, broken security seals, and altered or whited out incident reports and inspector statements.

This doesn’t mean all elections are being rigged; it just means any election can be rigged without detection. That possibility negates their security and erodes public trust by bringing into question the legitimacy of any and all elections.


Gilbert states, “Wisconsin has had two political faces since the 2008 election. It has been a blue state for president and a red state for governor. Obama won his two presidential races here by an average of more than 10 points; Walker won his two races for governor by an average of almost seven points.”

Are Wisconsinites really so wishy-washy or schizophrenic as to swing back and forth every two years between the extremely diverse platforms and ideals of Obama and Walker, as recent election results might indicate? It seems unlikely, and such counter-intuitive electoral swings can also be red flags for election fraud.


Election experts state that it is generally less difficult to rig elections on a local or state level than on a national level. Election Analyst Richard Charnin explains, “A small group of hackers can more easily rig a gubernatorial election in one state than a more complicated effort in a presidential election, which would require rigging key electoral vote states and non-competitive states to beef up the popular vote.”

Gilbert refers to the “dizzying” voting record of many Wisconsin counties, and cites tiny Lafayette County in the southwest part of the state as an example. Traditionally a Democratic Party stronghold, LaFayette County voted for Obama by 22 points in 2008, for Walker by six points in 2010, for Walker again by 14 points in the 2012 recall, and then again for Obama by 15 points only months later.

Taking a closer look, LaFayette is one of 41 primarily rural counties that employ a GAB-approved voting system of old-fashioned, hand-counted paper ballots and HAVA-compliant touch-screen voting machines in at least some of their municipalities.  Many of these counties are located in the western part of Wisconsin, which has traditionally been a Democratic Party stronghold.

CCeyeMost of the touch-screen machines used in these counties are the AVC EDGE II models provided by the notorious Command Central “Election Management Company,” which operates from a strip mall in central Minnesota and controls the programming and maintenance of over 3,000 voting machines in approximately 46 districts in the State of Wisconsin.

For Scott Walker’s 2012 recall election (and for all presidential and gubernatorial elections in the past 8 years), a very high percentage of votes in these counties were cast on the AVC Edge II touch-screen voting machines without any tangible, verifiable paper trails.  Clerks’ reports from LaFayette County show that 66% of the votes were cast on touch-screen machines, 14.3% of the votes were cast on opscan machines, and 19.6% were cast on paper ballots. Some counties in this area had close to 90% of the votes cast on touch-screen machines. 

Hand-Count Paper Ballot and Touchscreen Counties are circled.  Red dots indicate counties that showed a red swing of 3% or greater in the Walker recall.

Hand-counted paper ballot and touch-screen counties are circled. Red dots indicate touch-screen/HCPB counties that showed a red swing of 3% or greater in the Walker recall.

Election integrity advocate and statistician Denny Bartels analyzed the recall election results and discovered that of the 41 touch-screen and HCPB counties, 21 saw the Walker vote share increase by at least 3%.

Using the totals before GAB certification, Mr. Bartels said the average increase for Walker was 3.3% per county. The 21 counties with the big increases for Walker were Barron, Buffalo, Burnett, Calumet, Crawford, Forest, Green Lake, Kewaunee, Lafayette, Langlade, Manitowoc, Marinette, Oconto, Outagamie, Pepin, Price, Rusk, Shawano, Trempealeau, Washburn and Waupaca. Mr. Bartels said while he had not actually calculated the odds of this happening by chance, such odds would be astronomical.

At this point, we cannot be certain what neutralized the Democrats’ traditional advantage in western Wisconsin. As Craig Gilbert himself said after the 2012 Walker recall election, “One of the hardest things to know about elections is: when does something pretty unusual constitute a trend? And when is it just something pretty unusual?” (“Dominance in rural areas ensured Walker’s recall win” ~ Craig Gilbert; MJS; June 12, 2012)

But as long as state election laws allow voting machine technology to be considered “proprietary information” and forbid the public to examine it and there is no actual and verifiable paper trail, we cannot know if our votes are being recorded or counted accurately.

Duct taped ballot bag at the May 2011 Supreme Court Recount in Waukesha.

Duct taped ballot bag at the May 2011 Supreme Court Recount in Waukesha.

Added to this is the lack of any mechanism or process for investigating fraud, even when evidence of it surfaces. This lack seems to be based on the assumption that fraud doesn’t happen, or the misguided idea that if fraud were investigated it would shake people’s faith in the electoral system. Even extremely suspicious outcomes are not investigated, and in fact, cannot be investigated under current law. (e.g., in Waukesha, where sliced and duct-taped ballot bags were found at the Supreme Court recount, and Clerk Kathy Nicholaus used “special programming software” that counted more votes than voters.)

Rigging an election would require skimming and padding of votes across diverse voting districts in a calculated manner that will not arouse suspicion. There are fewer eyes on state and local elections. It is to the hackers’ advantage to have the public believe that we are truly polarized and split virtually down the middle within a range of approximately 47% to 53%, as hackers would only have to flip a small percentage of the votes from one candidate to the other to swing the election.


To protect our elections, here are some steps you can take:

  • First and foremost, please vote, and encourage others to do the same. A massive turnout can thwart efforts to game the system. And when you don’t vote it’s not rebellion, it’s surrender.
  • Ask your clerk to ensure that all citizens are aware of their paper ballot option on Election Day. Encourage her/him to order enough ballots to avoid election day shortages, and to allow all voters equal access to paper ballots in case of power failure or voting machine breakdown.
  • Ask for a paper ballot when you vote on Election Day, and encourage others to do so, as well. If poll workers try to convince you otherwise, politely insist on it. While they might tell you touch-screen machines have paper trails, the bottom line is that unverifiable numbers on voting machine print-outs are not verifiable paper trails. Even GAB Director Kevin Kennedy expressed concern over the municipalities in the Badger State that use electronic technology without a paper trail of votes. He said “those machines have no way of proving the real voting numbers in case of a malfunction.” 
  • If your ballot is rejected by an optical scanning machine, or a touch-screen machine shows you voted for a candidate other than you intended, OR, if you witness a machine malfunction on election day, call Wisconsin Election Protection, 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683), or tweet @EPWisco.   NOTE: if it’s a minor voting machine problem (like a paper jam) we encourage people to first ask the chief inspector (clerk usually) the status and if it is being fixed, some of those issues can be quickly resolved.
  • Insist your clerk file a report and enter your incident on the Inspector’s Report, GAB Form 104. If your incident is not filed here, it “did not happen”. http://gab.wi.gov/forms/gab-104
  • You have a right as a Wisconsin citizen to observe the election during voting hours or closing procedures after the polls close. For your rights and responsibilities as an election or poll closing observer, see Wisconsin GAB 4.01. http://elections.state.wi.us/docview.asp?docid=14620

If they steal our vote, they steal our voice and they steal our power. Stand up and help change election systems in Wisconsin. This is not an issue of “left” vs “right.” It’s “right” vs “wrong.”

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11 Comments on “Wisconsin’s Dramatic Vote Swings Raise Election Integrity Concerns”

  1. sheilaparks October 25, 2014 at 9:53 am #


  2. Todd October 25, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    The voting machines we use in our town has a touch screen and a paper scroll for voter to view their vote before casting. All voting machines should be of this type.

    • Marianne October 25, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

      Todd, can you tell us which type of voting machine you are using? It sounds like an AVC Edge II touchscreen / DRE voting machine, widely in use in Wisconsin Edge II’s have a verification system known as VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail).

      All votes cast on the AVC Edge (and all other touchscreen voting machines) are recorded directly into the memory of the computer. The Edge machine has a small window that appears to the left of the screen, in which the name of the selected candidate is supposed to appear. The VVPAT system puts the onus on each voter to check the name that appears in the window to confirm that the machine has recorded their vote properly.

      There have been countless incidents of the wrong name appearing in these windows. After the May 8, 2012 recall primary in Wisconsin WCEP received a report from the town of Cady in St Croix County, that when a person voted for Arthur Kohl-Riggs the name Walker appeared in the window. The voter called the election inspector for assistance, and eventually the correct name appeared in the window, so that the voter was comfortable casting her vote.

      But should we be comfortable casting votes on touchscreen machines, and trusting the Voter Verified Paper Audit trail system, even when the right name appears in the window? Regardless of what name shows up, do we know for certain that the machine is tallying accurately? Can we be certain there is not a second set of numbers being falsely generated within the machine, or that the vote totals are not being altered wirelessly by another computer?

      • Melissa October 25, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

        You are absolutely right, Marianne. The best thing we could do is to go back to paper ballots and hand counting. And we must also insist on corrective and/or legal action if there are any inconsistencies with the ballots or the bags in which they are supposed to be secured. Ripped bags, duct-taped bags, suspicious markings on ballots–these must all be investigated. And Wisconsin Officials across the State must be united in how they handle various issues, such as these (and any other), that could arise. It’s important that there be a standard protocol in place for every possible situation, and that this protocol be consistently followed in every election, at every polling place.

      • Todd October 27, 2014 at 7:08 am #

        Yes these are the machines we use and you are right for concerns of malfunction. I wouldn’t say these machines are silver bullet but election workers here almost insist on everyone use them when in fact they are only required to have 1 machine to met the requirement for voters with disability. Citizens can still ask to vote on paper ballot and I do. I would trust a machine with a paper trail more than one without. I still vote paper ballot however.

  3. Richard Charnin October 26, 2014 at 5:44 am #

    Analysis of stolen Wisconsin elections: U.S. senate, Supreme Court recount, state senate recalls, Walker recall.. http://richardcharnin.wordpress.com/category/2011-wisconsin-supreme-court-recall-elections/

  4. mischling2nd October 26, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    Only the Democratic Party has the power to really contest stolen elections – and you know they refuse to do so.

    • Barbara With October 26, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

      Yes that has frustrated me all through this discover of the state of Wisconsin election systems. Why?

  5. Richard February 17, 2015 at 10:59 am #

    There’s the FBI if dirty money was involved in an election, and there’s the Federal Election Commission for rigging and fraud. Have complaints been made?

  6. WILLIAM TIPTON December 3, 2016 at 12:07 am #

    “Election experts state that it is generally less difficult to rig elections on a local or state level than on a national level”
    and yet we CANNOT get the corrupt DEMORATS to accept Voter ID and other election safety nets.
    NO….VOTER ID ISNT THE COMPLETE FIX…SO DONT WASTE MY TIME ARGUING IT….but it IS PART of the fix….yet Dems DONT WANT it as long as they are WINNING elections.
    Only when a Republican wins do they start screaming for fraud relief….but as soon as they win again they want nothing to do with it and its ‘racist’ to even suggest it.

    MAYBE……just MAYBE….THIS presidential election will get you liberal nuts to FINALLY accept that we MUST HAVE voter ID…as well as PAPER trails and whatever else we can think up for election ‘integrity’.

    • Barbara With December 3, 2016 at 2:49 am #

      dude calm down. You have some facts wrong. Trump is suing to stop the recount. There is no voter fraud, only election fraud. The WI Republicans illegally redistricted and its been shot down by the Supreme Court. I am not a dem so you don’t really have to shout at me. I agree that Dems won’t challenge it most of the time, and did not this time either, it was actually Jill Stein of the Green Party. Voter ID does nothing to stop the hackable voting machines and the “14,000 ballots they find in closets two days after the elections (and those were republicans). Election integrity is not about left or right its about right or wrong. Sorry, you sound kind of out of it.

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