A St. Croix observer from the 2016 Wisconsin recount reports:

Five of the nine machines being used in the recount have tampered seals. Photos of two are attached. Photo of seal, followed by photo of serial number.
- Wendy, St. Croix County

Are the votes counted by a voting machine with tampered seals considered valid? (And if the votes are valid, then what's the purpose of having seals?)

The broken seal machines shown in the photos (see last link above) are two ES&S DS200s, serial numbers:

  1. DS0315410021
  2. DS0315410072
  • It's a warranty sticker. It's not some seal that indicates tampering or improper access
    – user9790
    Dec 4, 2016 at 15:39
  • 2
    As a matter of fact, it is an anti-tampering seal... but only in relation to the commercial warranty of the machines, which has nothing to do with their testing and certification for the voting process. In fact I would expect any serious certification procedure to involve breaking that seal, to check what is the HW inside the machines ("hey! why is there a smartphone circuit connected here"), but in any case you should check Wisconsin's certification procedure to know what to expect/detect.
    – SJuan76
    Dec 4, 2016 at 17:13
  • I'm mildly and idly curious where you get info for your questions (just to be clear, they are great questions! )
    – user4012
    Dec 4, 2016 at 19:56
  • @user4012, thank you for the compliment... the (fuzzy) answer: I don't know much about voting nowadays, and find these last few months almost as puzzling as the confidence some people seem to have in and about them. Also this isn't a bad place to ask...
    – agc
    Dec 4, 2016 at 22:40

2 Answers 2


The answer here seems to be that they are warranty seals. In other words, it seems that the seals were broken deliberately as part of anti-tampering checks by authorized people rather than by accident or malfeasance.

There's some misunderstandings of anti-tampering seals implicit in the question though. So I'll address those even though they have nothing to do with answering this specific question.

(And if the votes are valid, then what's the purpose of having seals?)

A non-broken anti-tampering seal tells an official that the machine does not need to be checked for tampering. So when sealed, it means something. Unsealed it's as if a seal was never applied.

Are the votes counted by a voting machine with tampered seals considered valid?

Consider what happens if breaking seals invalidates votes. A partisan could simply go to a precinct that is expected to vote in a particular direction and break the seals. That's much easier than actually tampering with the vote but it would invalidate the votes on that machine. Rather than making the machine harder to compromise, this kind of rule would make it easier.

The way to use anti-tampering seals is to not put the machine in service if the seals are broken. Or to pull the machine out of service if the seals are seen to be broken after it is already used. Or to trigger extra checks on the machine to verify the votes on it.

At a guess, they (Stein campaign) are trying to renew their argument for a manual count based on the paper record. Remember that the judge said that they had to "show there was a clear and convincing evidence of fraud or other problems" (quoted from the story not the judge). Perhaps they are trying to argue that this is an example of an "other problem" that would require a hand recount of the affected machines.

All this may be exactly why officials did not apply anti-tampering seals. They don't accomplish a lot, and when broken, don't tell you anything useful.

  • This makes some non-obvious assumptions: 1. the DS200's warranty allows non-company repairmen to work on the machines. 2. that authorized people don't reapply some other seal after they work on these boxes. 3. (in the case of the hypothetical partisan seal breaker) that the machine's chain of custody, and windows of unobserved or unmonitored duty cycle would make such a (presumed) felony practical (i.e. when the seal breaker would not be seen and caught -- for if they didn't care about being caught, there are many simple methods to damage a machine).
    – agc
    Dec 4, 2016 at 23:03
  • Note that I'm not giving an opinion as to whether any of those assumptions might be true or not. Only that the answer above seems to require them to be true.
    – agc
    Dec 4, 2016 at 23:04
  • 1. It is also possible that they voided the warranty when they broke the seal. 2. If that were the problem, then they'd be saying that the machines were missing the other seals that should replace the broken seals. Of course, they may say that in the future after learning more about the system. 3. My point is that it is easier to break a seal than to break the seal, open the machine, modify the programming, and close the machine. Our hypothetical partisan crook is less likely to get caught that way. And people are less likely to notice that the machine is compromised than broken.
    – Brythan
    Dec 5, 2016 at 2:10

the Elections Commission issued their statement http://www.fox9.com/news/221518020-story

  • 2
    Welcome to Politics.SE. Link-only answers are discouraged because of "link rot"; it becomes completely useless once the linked article is moved or removed. Consider adding essential parts from the linked article straight into your answer. Otherwise, it can be downvoted and subsequently deleted. Dec 5, 2016 at 5:56
  • Thanks, I've just read the linked-to article, and it says in a nutshell: the (unnamed) technician(s?) who installed modems into the DS200s neglected to install the seal afterwards, and regarding the legality of that, the St. Croix County Clerk is passing the baton (or buck) to the County's (unnamed) lawyer(s?). So it's interesting, but it doesn't answer the question.
    – agc
    Dec 5, 2016 at 13:55

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