Crawford County elections have numerous checks and balances

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By Ted Pennekamp


There have been several recounts, audits and investigations regarding the 2020 November Election in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Election Commission has come under fire as well, and the role of county clerks has been looked at. 

So, perhaps it is a good time to disseminate information about how elections are conducted in each county.

“The role of county clerks is to make sure all elections are run smoothly and fairly,” said Crawford County Clerk Robin Fisher, who noted that there are local elections such as elections for the County Board of Supervisors, school boards, town boards, village boards, and the Prairie du Chien City Council. Other elections in Crawford County include elections for the county clerk, treasurer, register of deeds, clerk of courts, sheriff, and coroner. 

Of course, there are also elections for state representatives, state senators, U.S. representatives, and U.S. senators. The election making the biggest waves of late in Wisconsin is the presidential election of 2020. 

Fisher said that as a county clerk she provides election materials (such as ballots) to the towns and villages and also reports the election results to the state. The city of Prairie du Chien conducts their own elections. The city does report its results to Fisher, however, so the results can be posted on the county’s website.

Fisher said there are a total of 21 voting machines in Crawford County, including two in the city of Prairie du Chien. Of these 21 machines, 16 are large tabulating machines and five are smaller touch screen machines in various municipalities. The city of Prairie du Chien’s machines are tabulating machines.

With tabulating machines, each voter fills out a paper ballot. The ballot is inserted into the machine and its votes are counted. With a touch screen machine, the voter touches the screen to select the candidates of their choice. The voter confirms his or her choices and their votes are recorded on a printout and counted by the machine.

Before each election, every machine is tested for accuracy and certified. 

Fisher said she would like to emphasize to the public that because the machines are in no way connected to the internet, they simply cannot be hacked. The machines are plugged in like a refrigerator, that is all. Nobody in the United States or any other country can hack into a machine.

In addition, following the election, each municipality conducts a hand count of the votes. The ballots and printouts are then sent to the county which conducts a canvassing of the votes, which is another hand count. The canvassing is conducted by the county clerk, a Republican representative and a Democrat representative. Each vote counter is sworn under oath. Also, Fisher said the Republicans and/or the Democrats sometimes will have observers present during the canvassing.

“There are checks and balances everywhere throughout the whole election process,” said Fisher. Only after the hand-counted canvassing is complete do the election results become official. Only the official results are then sent to the state.

There is a chain of custody regarding ballots and printouts, which are in sealed envelopes when transported from the municipalities to the county. The county and the towns and villages need to “sign off” for ballots and printouts.

There is also a chain of custody for voting cartridges from the machines. The voting cartridges simply need to be reprogrammed to get ready for the next election because the next election will have different candidates up for election to different offices. Each cartridge is sealed in a zippered pouch, said Fisher.  

Fisher said that next year might be a big election year in Crawford County. “Next year is expected to be a busy one,” said Fisher. “There will be a spring and a fall election, and there could be a spring and a fall primary. Potentially, there could be four elections.”

The Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) was created by the Republican controlled state legislature during the Governor Scott Walker Administration. The WEC began on June 30, 2016. It replaced the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board. The WEC oversaw the 2016 Presidential Election in Wisconsin as well as the 2020 Presidential Election. The WEC is made up of three Republicans and three Democrats. After every election, the WEC conducts random audits of several machines throughout the state. WEC staff randomly selected 185 wards across the state to conduct audits. Municipal clerks for the selected wards were notified and received instructions on how to conduct the audits. Wisconsin has 12 different makes and models of voting equipment in use, and each type was audited at least five times. At least one ward in each of the 72 counties was selected, but no municipality was selected for more than two audits. Audits were required to be completed by Nov. 28, several days before the deadline for the WEC certified results on Monday, Dec. 3.

An October report from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau found no evidence of significant fraud in the state’s 2020 election. The report did make 48 recommendations to the legislature and the WEC for improvements to how elections are run. Four people have been charged with fraud in the 2020 election in Wisconsin out of approximately 3 million voters.

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