June 26, 2012
Thank you for contacting us about your request to view voted ballots and other election related
materials. You raise concerns about the possibility of being charged to view ballots in response
to a public records request. Your request is one of several requests presented to county and
municipal clerks following the June 5th recall elections. Let me provide some basic information
about the treatment of election materials, particularly voted ballots, with respect to Wisconsin
Public Records law. Wis. Stats., Chapter 19, Subchapter II.
1. Voted ballots, tally sheets and voting equipment printouts showing the results of
electronically tabulated ballots are public records.
2. These records may not be viewed by members of the public until after the applicable
deadline for requesting a recount has passed or if a recount occurs, the applicable appeal
deadline has passed.
3. In the case of the recall elections conducted on June 5, 2012, the recount deadline for Senate
Districts 13 and 29 was 5 pm on June 19, 2012.
4. In the case of the recall elections conducted on June 5, 2012, the recount deadline for
Governor, Lt. Governor and Senate District 23 was 5 pm on June 26, 2012.
5. The deadline for the appeal of the recount occurring in Senate District21 has not been
6. Custodians of public records are entitled to charge location fees for the actual, necessary and
direct cost of location of a record if the cost is $50 or more. Wis Stats. §19.35 (3)(c)
7. Voted ballots are secured in sealed containers following an election. Wis Stats. §7.51 (3)(a)
8. These voted ballots may be stored in a location separate from the office of the custodian.
9. Under state law no one may touch a voted ballot after it has been deposited in a voting device
or ballot box except an election official. Wis Stats. §9.01 (1)(b)11.
10. Voted ballots may be copied or viewed under the public records law.
11. Because voted ballots are the official record underlying the certified election results, local
election officials who maintain custody of these records must be diligent in protecting these
records from tampering.
12. If an election official, who is the custodian of voted ballots, receives a request to copy or
view the records after the applicable deadlines for a recount or appeal have passed, there are
several steps that need to be taken to locate these records and make them available for
copying or inspection.
13. These steps include:
a. Retrieving the documents from the secure location,
b. Making a notation in the chain of custody of the tamper proof seal number on the
container holding the voted ballots,
c. Breaking the seal and making a record in the chain of custody of the removal of the
voted ballots from the container,
d. Copying the voted ballots or making them available for inspection,
e. Returning the voted ballots to the secure container, sealing the container and making a
notation in the chain of custody document of the tamper proof seal number,
f. Returning the voted ballots to the secure location.
14. If the voted ballots are made available for inspection, they may not be given to the requester
to handle. The custodian must present each individual ballot to the requester in a manner that
enables the requester to view the ballot without touching the ballot. This is necessary to
protect the integrity of the voted ballot.
15. This morning’s Wisconsin Supreme Court decision focuses on redaction costs. State law
explicitly permits charging location costs if more than $50.
On June 26, 2012, at the annual Summer Symposium of County Clerks, we shared this advice
with County Clerks because of the large number of public records requests submitted to county
clerks with respect to voted ballots and other records related to the conduct of the June 5, 2012
recall elections. The county clerks were advised to discuss the requests with their corporation
counsel, who is charged with advising them with compliance with the public records law. We
believe these steps are directly related to locating the records and preserving their integrity while
making them available for copying or inspection consistent with the legislative declaration of
policy set out in Wis Stats. §19.31.
Kevin J. Kennedy
Director and General Counsel
Wisconsin Government Accountability Board