[lbo-talk] Ruth Conniff on the dubious practices of the Waukesha voting clerk

Michael Pollak mpollak at panix.com
Fri Apr 8 11:48:22 PDT 2011


April 7, 2011

The Progressive

Oops! Republican Clerk's 7,500 Extra Votes for Prosser

By Ruth Conniff

It really is Fitzwalkerstan.

Kathy Nickolaus, County Clerk in heavily Republican Waukesha, announced

in a press conference yesterday that she had made a "human error" in

recording vote totals, and that the real total is 7,500 more for

Justice David Prosser than reported on election night.

That just happens to put Prosser in the winner category, barely out of

range of a state-financed recount.

Nickolaus apologized for her mistake, but, on the positive side, said

she was "proud" of the higher turnout than previously reported in her



But wait, it gets better. Nickolaus worked for Prosser years ago when

he was a Republican assemblyman in Madison, Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan

reminds us. And she was granted immunity to testify during the 2002

Republican caucus investigations, concerning campaign finance

violations by Republican legislators and their staff.

Better yet, since taking her job as county clerk in Waukesha, Nickolaus

has insisted on keeping election data on her personal computer, under

her personal control.

Hence those awkward moments at the press conference when she switched

from using the word "we" to the word "I" as she described how she saved

the data as vote totals came in and really has no idea how it came out

wrong in the end but still accepts full responsibility for the "human


How does she know it was human error if she thinks she did everything

right, reporters asked her.

Well, maybe some software feature wasn't enabled, she allowed.

Is there any way to figure out now what went wrong, reporters asked.

"Not that I'm aware of," Nickolaus replied.

The error turned up during the "canvass" process, in which paper

records from voting machines are compared to the computerized reports

of vote totals. Brad Friedman of the Bradblog points out the best part:

Nickolaus has insisted on keeping elections data on a personal computer

in her office--to which she alone has access--and rebuffed demands by

auditors that she upgrade to a safer and more tamper-proof system.

Friedman quotes a Journal-Sentinel article on the controversy around

the audit and Nickolaus's unorthodox practice of hoarding control over

elections data.

"Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus' decision to go it alone in how

she collects and maintains election results has some county officials

raising a red flag about the integrity of the system," the Laurel

Walker of the Journal-Sentinel reported. "Nickolaus said she decided to

take the election data collection and storage system off the county's

computer network - and keep it on stand-alone personal computers

accessible only in her office - for security reasons. 'What it gave me

was good security of the elections from start to finish, without the

ability of someone unauthorized to be involved,' she said."

The Journal Sentinel reported in January that Nickolaus was chastised

by county board member Jim Dwyer for sneering and smirking during a

hearing on whether she had adequate safeguards on the computer system

that keeps track of votes. As Walker reported it, county board members

got angry at her attitude. "'There really is nothing funny about this,

Kathy,'" [Dwyer] said, raising his voice. 'Don't sit there and grin

when I'm explaining what this is about. Don't sit there and say I will

take it into consideration,' he said, asking her pointedly whether she

would change the passwords. 'I have not made my decision,' she


As one outraged Wisconsin elections official put it:

"This woman has single-handedly destroyed the credibility of my entire

profession. The important detail here is not whether the numbers are

right or not (they very well may be, as the explanation from the board

of canvass is at least plausible). The real issue is how the process of

reporting was so distorted by secrecy that the public was denied access

to the raw data in real time." The damage to voter confidence in the

state is " irreparable."

Meanwhile, Prosser has hired Ben Ginsberg, a Republican lawyer who

worked on the Florida recount for George W. Bush.

Get enough people in the right places and this whole democracy problem

can be cleared right up.

Ah, Wisconsin, the civilized, clean-government, open-meetings state.

How we miss you.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of

The Progressive, check out her story "Wisconsin Leads the War on

Public Schools."

[twitter-s.gif] Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter

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