How to steal an election in 20 nearly impossible and hard to hide steps

Originally published in the Wisconsin Examiner on February 16, 2022

If someone were planning to undertake a massive and unprecedented plot to steal an election in Wisconsin by casting tens of thousands of fraudulent votes — perhaps on behalf of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, a civic group connected to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg or any number of foreign countries, as Republicans have spent the past year and a half alleging — this is how they’d need to do it, according to Robert Kehoe, chief technology officer at the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC).

“What would it take to perpetrate such a spectacular and massive fraud? What are the obstacles?” Kehoe asked, posing and then answering the question to the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections on Wednesday. “There are a few.”

First, the aspiring election thief would need to create voter registrations for all of their fraudulent votes. When a person is registered, a record is created of who created the new registration and when they did it and municipal clerks are notified whenever someone registers.

Then the person seeking to steal an election would need to request absentee ballots for all of those imaginary voters. But each absentee ballot request comes with a record and each online absentee ballot request requires the person to provide a valid photo ID which is then verified by a municipal clerk.

After the absentee ballot request is received and the clerk mails out the ballot, a record is created with the U.S. Postal Service. Ballot envelopes in Wisconsin come with barcodes that track their movement through the mail system, creating a digital paper trail.

When each ballot is returned, municipal clerks record the location and manner in which it was received. From there, the ballot is placed in a secure location until it’s opened on election day in front of observers and counted and the voter’s name is announced out loud. Then, the poll books in which voting is tracked are compared to the final voter record.

Also, the absentee ballot request, the ballot itself and the envelope it arrived in are retained by municipalities.

From there, the final counts are certified by canvasses at the local and county level before going to final certification by the state.

To successfully manage to pass off more than 20,000 fraudulent votes — which is the number by which lawsuits, investigations, audits and reviews have affirmed Joe Biden won Wisconsin — would require, according to Kehoe, the entire staff of the WEC, every county clerk, every municipal clerk, the clerks’ staffs, the USPS, staff members of multiple state agencies and multiple federal agencies to look the other way or not notice something was wrong.

Kehoe laid all of this out to the committee one week after Peter Bernegger, a convicted felon, gave testimony that he’d used a “supercomputer” to conduct data analysis that found tens of thousands of fraudulent votes and millions of illegal voter registrations.

Kehoe and WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe carefully refuted a number of the claims made by Bernegger at that previous meeting — saying all of the claims were easily explainable but that they understand how someone looking at raw data without context can lead to false conclusions.

“I can understand and sympathize with somebody looking at a voter registration list, they’re not going to see the nuances of how that information has been used, merged, maintained, over history,” Wolfe said.

For example, Bernegger had claimed that there were too many votes and too many voter registrations coming from certain residential addresses to make sense. But a few of the addresses he provided were massive apartment buildings near the campuses of UW-Madison and UW-Parkside — places with a lot of residents at one time and a high level of tenant turnover.

Bernegger also made allegations that a number of people with the same first and last name registering to vote from the same address at the same time was evidence of fraud. Instead, Kehoe said, family members moved to a new home and registered under their new address.

“These voters all share an address, a phone number and last names,” Kehoe said. “They all registered at the same time, within minutes of each other. Is that strange? These people all have different birth dates and the average age difference is about 25 years. I have a hunch that these voters share a name and reside at the same house because they’re related.”

Kehoe called the use of that information as evidence of fraud “ a shocking and frightening claim, without one single example.”

Wednesday’s informational hearing was held as 15 months of Republican attacks on the state’s election system continued to escalate, despite repeated efforts to debunk claims of fraud from outside observers and members of both political parties. On Tuesday, Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), the committee’s chair, appeared at a rally at the Capitol with gubernatorial candidate Rep. Tim Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) to push for the passage of a resolution that would recall Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes — even though that’s an impossible legal maneuver.

Brandtjen has been one of Wisconsin’s most fanatical election conspiracy theorists, and on Wednesday, in the face of answers from the WEC, continued a Republican push for a “forensic audit” of the state’s voting systems.

“Have you ever had the database audited? A forensic audit?” she asked.

Part of Ramthun’s gubernatorial platform includes a call for an “independent full forensic physical cyber audit” of the 2022 election no matter the outcome.

Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison), told the WEC representatives in the hearing that they were at risk of showing bias to people who believe election conspiracies when they refer to those theories using terms such as “chasing ghosts, imaginary anxieties, fantastical claims, sensationalized claims, spectacular claims or unsupported claims.”

“When you use those terms, you present a bias to the folks hearing them,” Tusler said. “When you’re saying all claims before we’ve heard of them are fantastical, spectacular or imagined anxieties — WEC isn’t supposed to be a partisan group; it’s not supposed to have these biases. The terminology you use is super important. People are watching, when they hear that stuff they think you’re not listening. The truth is you want to hear good claims, real claims, claims that are legitimate and unfortunately sometimes you have to dig through some hay to find that needle.”

Tusler also said he wishes the WEC were more proactive in refuting false claims about the election by responding to them before they’ve been brought to the commission or posting answers online. The agency has had a FAQ page on its website for over a year that does refute common allegations.

Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire) questioned how the commission could respond to allegations that haven’t been made to its staff, comparing it to law enforcement only undertaking a criminal investigation once a report has been made.

“We have to have someone actually report [a crime] to the police department,” Emerson said. “We have people making fantastical claims about the election. With the limited resources you have, of course you can’t be responding to every Facebook claim.”

Kehoe and Wolfe said that all formal reports to the WEC are investigated and action is taken by its six appointed members and that many informal reports, when made by groups who come with documentation and evidence, are taken seriously and looked into by commission staff.

“There is value in private citizens examining election data,” Kehoe said. “But the serious researchers examine specific data, document their work and don’t make spectacular, unsupported claims.”

While some of the Republicans on the committee appeared swayed by the testimony of Kehoe and Wolfe — Rep. David Murphy (R-Greenville) said that Bernegger’s allegations were “more about volume than accuracy” — right-wing attacks on the system have not stopped. Ramthun’s campaign continues and his rally at the Capitol on Tuesday drew around 200 attendees; other Republican candidates for governor have made “election integrity” a key issue in their platforms; former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman’s partisan probe of the 2020 election continues, with legislative leadership unable to provide an end date and polls show a large number of Republican voters believe the 2020 election was stolen.

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