A discrepancy in the results that Sauk County officials provided on election night has prompted a storm of online criticism.
“Election FRAUD!” wrote an anonymous Twitter user identified only as DoctorTeePhd. “Not an error FRAUD!”
The tweet included an image of a document that the Sauk County Clerk’s Office released on election night. Arrows added to the document pointed to numbers indicating were more votes were counted in the presidential race than there were ballots cast within the county.
One line showed there were 31,838 ballots cast in Sauk County. But another portion of the document showed 34,577 votes cast in the presidential election.
The anomaly even was mentioned in a Nov. 23 New York Times article about a social media campaign to push for a recount in several key swing states.
But a county official says computer system complications – not election fraud – were to blame for the error, which later was identified and corrected in the canvassed election results.
Official results were certified the week after the election. They show 31,318 presidential votes were cast in Sauk County. The final tally included 14,791 votes for Donald Trump and 14,692 for Hillary Clinton.
Data set recorded twice
Complications began on election night when the city of Baraboo had difficulty sending its results to the county clerk’s office by modem, Sauk County Clerk Becky Evert said.
The city saved its results to two memory sticks. The first stick of data made it cleanly to the county and was automatically recorded in the tally. But the second stick did not come through.
In order to resolve the matter, Evert said, a city poll worker provided the data from the second memory stick to a county employee over the phone. The county employee forgot to add the additional votes to the “ballots cast” line on the unofficial results released on election night.
In addition to that error, the second set of data eventually came through and was automatically added to the county’s total. This meant one of the city’s data sets was recorded twice in the unofficial results.
Canvass resolves error
Evert said that error was discovered and corrected by the Sauk County Board of Canvassers the week after the election.
“During the county canvass, we realized that the second memory stick had been recorded twice, once manually and once via modem,” Evert said, adding that the Wisconsin Elections Commission was informed of the problem. “Therefore, we adjusted our reports and they now match the election night tapes as they should.”
Evert said her office asked the company that provides technical assistance with the county’s election system to review the election night mishap, and that the company agreed with her office’s account of what happened.
Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney confirmed Monday that the explanation Evert provided to the Baraboo News Republic was consistent with the one provided to state officials.
Baraboo City Clerk-Finance Director Cheryl Giese also confirmed Evert’s account.
The matter has led to criticism online.
“It doesn’t garner public confidence to see errors like this in election results, (especially) in a close battleground state,” tweeted Michael McDonald, an Associate Professor at the University of Florida who specializes in American elections.
Turnout lower than reported
The error does not affect the outcome of any county races. But it does impact the turnout figure that initially was reported by the Sauk County Clerk’s Office.
The day after the election, Evert reported that the unofficial results suggested that 72 percent of eligible Sauk County voters cast ballots in the presidential election, the highest turnout on records that date back to 1978.
However, that number was artificially inflated by the election night complications. The actual turnout was 66 percent, Evert said Monday.
Previous Sauk County turnouts in presidential elections were as follows:
- 2004: 70 percent
- 2008: 66 percent
- 2012: 67 percent
Recount to start soon
In anticipation of a statewide recount requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Evert said her office is gearing up to go through Sauk County ballots again by hand.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission is expected to give the recount order today, and Evert said the Sauk County recount may begin as soon as Thursday morning. She said it may take longer than 10 days, but does not have a more precise estimate.
“Honestly, I have no clue,” Evert said, adding that she expects the work to continue through the weekends in order to meet the Dec. 13 deadline.
Evert said she already has received commitments from those who will assist with the recount effort.
This article was updated Nov. 29 to clarify that 31,318 was the number of presidential votes cast in Sauk County.