Election Integrity

The aftermath of the Wisconsin 2020 election has been marked by allegations that it was subject to widespread voter fraud.

Concerns have been raised about middle of the night vote dumps, the conduct of election officials in various communities, the widespread adoption of vote-by-mail and absentee drop boxes, as well as allegations of votes being changed by voting machines.

In a Marquette University Law Poll conducted in August 2021, nearly a year after the election, more than 70% of Republicans and 26% of Independents reported a lack of confidence that “the votes for president were accurately cast and counted in last year’s election.”

When large numbers of voters question the authenticity of an election, their concerns, whether valid or not, need to be addressed.

A group of researchers and attorneys at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) engaged in an in-depth examination of the 2020 election in Wisconsin.

months of in-depth examination

ballots reviewed

absentee ballots reviewed

open records requests

Total Documents Reviewed

2020 Election Review Findings

It is almost certain that in Wisconsin’s 2020 election the number of votes that did not comply with existing legal requirements exceeded Joe Biden’s margin of victory.

As recently confirmed by the Legislative Audit Bureau, the widespread adoption of absentee ballot drop boxes, encouraged by the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), runs afoul of state law requirements for the collection of absentee ballots. And more than 265,000 Wisconsin voters adopted the ‘indefinitely confined’ status, meaning they received an absentee ballot and were exempt from the statewide photo ID requirements. Further, 54,259 ballots were cast by individuals who have never shown a voter ID in any election. This does not necessarily mean that Biden did not win a majority of the votes of those eligible to vote, but the questions of fraud and unlawful processes are related.

It is still not possible to infer fraud solely from these unlawfully cast votes or failure to maintain voter rolls.

There isn’t much, if any, evidence that these voters did anything intentionally wrong. In many instances, they seem to have relied on the advice of election officials. It is unclear whether, had these ballots been disqualified, the results of the election would have changed. And we do believe that a coordinated effort to exploit the weaknesses created by this failure to follow the law would likely have resulted in some discernible anomaly.

We found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

In all likelihood, more eligible voters cast ballots for Joe Biden than Donald Trump. We found limited instances where ineligible persons voted or attempted to cast ballots. We found no evidence of more than one vote being cast in the name of the same voter. And our analysis of the results and voting patterns does not give rise to an inference of fraud.

We found no evidence of significant problems with voting machines.

Donald Trump won communities that used Dominion voting machines with 57.2%, an increase from 2016. WILL’s review found that jurisdictions that used Dominion voting machines had no effect on the expected vote total.

Local practices were not uniform and, in some cases, may not have followed the law.

This review identified several practices by local election officials that are not uniform and raise concerns about fair and equal treatment. Advice and guidance from the Wisconsin Election Commission on ballot curing and Special Registration Deputies was inconsistent with state law. And inconsistent practices with regard to the number of hours of in-person absentee voting, ballot curing, and absentee ballot rejections should provide the legislature with opportunities to make practices more uniform.

Voter rolls were not properly maintained

State and federal law requires Wisconsin to maintain accurate voter rolls. But the Wisconsin Elections Commission and local clerks refused to take the required steps in 2020 to remove outdated and inaccurate voter registrations—resulting in tens of thousands of active voter registrations tied to old addresses. The widespread abandonment of proper procedures raises questions regarding the fairness of the process and the possibility for voter fraud that might not otherwise be detected.

The 2020 election results were not anomalous.

The high 2020 statewide turnout in Wisconsin (72.3%) was not abnormal. It was the turnout in 2016 that was unusually low. In general, the 2020 election in Wisconsin aligned with long-term statewide and national trends of Democratic gains in the cities and suburbs, coupled with increased Republican margins in rural areas. Joe Biden overperformed Democratic congressional candidates, while Trump underperformed Republican congressional candidates. And 2020 was a return to more conventional levels of write-in and third-party voting.

We found that private funding of election operations had a partisan bias and impact.

Private grants for election administration from the Center for Technical and Civic Life (CTCL), a non-profit largely funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, resulted in an increase in turnout in five Wisconsin cities—all voting heavily for Democrat Joe Biden. A statistical analysis finds significant increases in turnout for Democrats, approximately 8,000 votes statewide, as a result of the distribution of CTCL grants.

A targeted review of a sampling of ballots found few issues.

A close review, including a hand count of roughly 20,000 ballots from 20 wards, uncovered no evidence of fraudulent ballots or widespread voter fraud. The wards selected had results that stood out in some way from previous elections. But our hand review found that the counts closely matched those reported by the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC). In many of the wards examined, WILL found a significant number of voters who voted for Biden and a Republican for Congress, while far fewer voters split the other way.

WEC Reforms

  • Bipartisan Legal Counsel and Staff
  • Require Guidance and Communications to Clerks to Be Sent to JCRAR
  • Require Joint Responsibility Between WEC and Municipalities for Voter Registration List Maintenance
  • Use HAVA Checks to Update Voter Rolls
  • Changes to WEC Complaint Process

Drop Boxes

  • Drop Box Security and 24-Hour Video Surveillance
  • Require Two Employees to Pick Up Drop Box Ballots
  • Institute Standardized Chain of Custody Logs
  • Use Security Bags

Private Funding of Election Administration

  • An outright ban on private funding of election administration.
  • Or a requirement that state elections administrators distribute any private funds received by municipalities directly.

Ballot Harvesting

  • The legislature must clarify that ballot harvesting is illegal.
  • Senate Bill 203, one of the election reform bills passed by the legislature and vetoed by Governor Evers, clarifies the individuals who can drop off a ballot for another person, including grandchildren, children, and spouses.

Absentee Ballot Certificate Curing

  • Determine and set a standard of ballot curing.
  • Standardize Absentee Ballot Envelopes
  • Require Any Marks by Clerk’s Office to Be Marked in Red Ink and Initialed
  • Require All Cured Absentee Envelopes to Be Logged into Absentee Ballot Log

Election Transparency

  • Monthly Snapshots of Voter File and Election Day Snapshot.
  • Voter File Should Be Available to the Public at No Cost.
  • All Data Should be Available at the Ward Level.
  • Create Municipal-Level Election Statistics Reports.
  • Cast Vote Record Transparency

Indefinitely Confined Status

  • Wisconsin should develop a tightened indefinitely confined standard, while still giving voters options in accessing this process.
  • The legislature should also create a statutory timeline for removing non-voters from the indefinitely confined list.

Uniform Absentee Voting Hours

  • The legislature should establish uniform statewide hours for in-person absentee voting that apply to each municipality throughout the state.

Ballot Counting

  • Wisconsin should adopt a law that allows clerks to begin processing absentee ballots on the Monday before the election.
  • While the appearance of late-night ballot dumps could be largely solved by allowing a “Monday Count,” another way to fix this issue is to require communities that use central count to report results as they are completed.

Media and Commentary


October, 2023 | Will Flanders, PHD, Miranda Spindt

WSJ | Wisconsin Ballot Drop Boxes Are Illegal

July 8, 2022 | WSJ Editorial Board

Wall Street Journal | The Best Summary of the 2020 Election

January 25, 2022 | Wall Street Journal Editorial Board

Wall Street Journal | Zuckerbucks Shouldn’t Pay for Elections

January 3, 2022 | Wall Street Journal Editorial Board

Wisconsin Spotlight | Election Review Raises More Questions

December 7, 2021 | M.D. Kittle

Center Square | WILL election review finds unlawful 2020 votes and law, but no evidence of widespread fraud

December 7, 2021 | Ben Yount

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Conservative group finds no signs of widespread voter fraud in Wisconsin but urges changes to election processes

December 7, 2021 | Patrick Marley

Wisconsin State Journal | Conservative law firm's review of 2020 election: No 'big steal,' but plenty of problems

December 7, 2021 | Chris Rickert