Different system and more professionals involved in WI vote counting

The spokesman for Wisconsin’s elections oversight agency says the vote-counting debacle that occurred during Monday’s Iowa presidential caucus is unlikely to happen here when state voters cast ballots for their presidential preference on April 7.

The presidential primary occurs on that date as does the regular spring election for non-partisan offices, so the polls are staffed by trained elections workers, said Reid Magney, public information officer for the Wisconsin Elections Commission. 

In contrast, Magney said, the Iowa caucus is a special election staffed by volunteers who are not necessarily used to tabulating election vote totals. That process was operated by that state’s Democratic Party instead of being overseen by experts who regularly manage elections. 

“The Wisconsin presidential preference vote is a regular election that is part of our spring election” Magney said, “so instead of relying on political party volunteers to report results, those results come from trained professional clerks who do this every election.”

In Wisconsin, county clerks in each of the 72 counties, assisted by election workers in local municipalities, are responsible for tabulating vote totals. That system, rather than a decentralized one in which results are reported to one location, also helps prevent against an election-counting snafu, Magney said. 

In Iowa, people at caucus sites across the state were attempting to report results via a single smartphone app, potentially causing the vote-tallying backlog that prevented results from being reported in a timely manner. Problems with the app and a lack of personnel counting votes and answering phones led to problems obtaining vote totals.  

“In our system, those votes are counted and reported in each county individually, so everybody isn’t jamming things up at one location,” Magney said. 

The situation in Iowa has heightened awareness of the necessity for a smooth and accurate vote-counting process, he said.

“We realize it is a big, important election, and we have the resources in place to make sure we can handle it,” Magney said. 

County clerks across Wisconsin said they believe their process will ensure a smooth presidential primary and other elections this spring. Automated election equipment and election process reviews have Barron County Clerk DeeAnn Cook feeling comfortable her county is ready for this spring’s election, even with a presidential primary vote. 

“We have an entirely different system from the Iowa caucus,” said Cook, county clerk since 2005. “Our vote is part of the regular election and will be overseen by election workers who are trained to do this work. We feel like this will be successful and I don’t have any reason to believe we would have any problems.”

Unlike the Iowa caucus, where political parties direct the process, the presidential primary in Wisconsin will be overseen by trained elections workers, a fact that helps protect against problems counting votes, longtime Winnebago County Clerk Sue Ertmer said. 

“The vote is Iowa is run by a political party, so it is more prone to problems,” she said, noting she expects “a smooth” vote-count for the Wisconsin primary in two months. 

Eau Claire County Clerk Janet Loomis feels similarly. While the presidential primary is likely to drive up spring election turnout that typically ranges from eight to 30 percent of eligible voters, that shouldn’t hinder the vote count, she said. 

“For us, this will be just like any other election.” Loomis said, noting past elections that included presidential primary votes have gone well. 

Voting machine upgrades such as touch-screen equipment at polling places has sped up the vote count in her county and other locations across the state, Jackson County Clerk Kyle Deno said. The higher vote turnout expected because of the presidential primary shouldn’t pose problems tallying poll results in a timely fashion, she said. 

“I don’t think (the presidential primary) changes anything, other than the higher vote total,” she said.

[Editor’s note: The progressive non-profit organization ACRONYM is an investor in Shadow, the app used in Iowa. ACRONYM is also an investor in Courier Newsroom.].