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Friday, April 08, 2011

Is Prosser's Magic Lead the Result of Fraud or Just Incompetence?

Let's just say that there's cause for some skepticism here. On Tuesday, an extremely close state Supreme Court race between JoAnne Kloppenburg and incumbent David Prosser stretched into the night -- and then into the next day. By Wednesday, it was reported that JoAnne Kloppenburg had -- unofficially -- scored the slimmest of victories. With 100% of precincts reporting, 204 votes separated the two candidates, according to the count by the Associated Press. A narrow win, to be sure, but more votes are more votes -- the lead you officially need is one. Kloppenburg declared victory and the canvass of the votes began.

Then a funny thing happened. A whole bunch of Prosser votes suddenly appeared...

Wisconsin State Journal:

Incumbent Justice David Prosser gained a 7,500-vote lead in the hotly contested state Supreme Court race Thursday after the clerk in conservative-leaning Waukesha County announced she undercounted the votes because of an inputting error.


If the new results stand, they would swing the election to Prosser after unofficial results Wednesday showed challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg was the winner with a 204-vote lead out of nearly 1.5 million votes cast.

But this story wasn't broken by local news media. The first major publications reporting it were the National Review and the Weekly Standard -- both journals of opinion and not known for investigative journalism. In other words, the story had been leaked to the conservative press, where the news would be greeted with a lot less skepticism than the story would call for. For their part, the AP still hasn't changed their count. As far as they're concerned, it seems, Kloppenburg's win still -- albeit unofficially -- stands. And local press remain unconvinced of the new numbers.

The Capital Times editorial board:

Wisconsinites should respond with... skepticism to the news that Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, a former Republican legislative staffer who worked for Prosser when he served as Assembly speaker and with Gov. Scott Walker when he was a GOP rising star, has found all the votes that justice needs to secure his re-election and that the governor needs to claim a "win" for his agenda.

There is no need for a conspiracy theory. The facts raise the questions that election observers are now asking.

"Nickolaus claims that it was 'human error' that caused her to 'lose' the Brookfield results on her personal computer where she had secreted away the data," CapTimes reports. "Yet, she apparently knew of the 'mistake' for 29 hours before reporting it and then handed the information off to conservative bloggers and talk-radio personalities."

Nickolaus has a bad history when it comes to running elections. In 2006, she was involved in a minor scandal in which the winner of a Republican primary was reported incorrectly [pdf]. In the end, the real numbers showed a different candidate had won by a "significant margin."

Nickolaus was also under scrutiny last year from county officials for her handling of voting data, because "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." Nickolaus' "security" was later found to be poor, since several staffers shared a password because "it would take too much time for one employee to log off before another one logged on with a different user ID."

Further, in 2002, Nickolaus worked for the state Assembly Republican Caucus, which "has since been eliminated by the state Legislature for alleged violations of several state election rules." Prosser, as Assembly Speaker at the time, would've been her boss. According to WSJ, Nickolaus"worked for seven years as a data analyst and computer specialist for the Assembly Republican caucus" and "headed up an effort to develop a computer program that averaged the performance of Republicans in statewide races by ward." In other words, she was electioneering on the state's dime. Nickolaus was given immunity to testify in the case. The good people of Waukesha County, being forgiving sorts, put a woman involved with illegal electioneering in charge of the county's elections.

Finally, 7,500 votes is an awfully convenient number. In Wisconsin, the state pays for a recount if the difference in the totals is less than 0.5% -- Prosser is just outside that now, making a challenge by Kloppenburg expensive (you can help out on that front here).

In Nickolaus's defense, a Democrat on the county board vouched for her story, saying, "Everything that we went over yesterday afternoon and today, it jived up, and we're satisfied that it's correct. And I'm with the Democratic Party, vice-chair of Waukesha County, so I'm not gonna stand here and tell you something that's incorrect." However, Nickolaus is a computer expert -- albeit an incompetent one, if her story is to be believed -- and the dem, Ramona Kitzinger, is not. At least, not as far as I can tell.

I have no problem believing that Kathy Nickolaus is simply as incompetent as she claims. Republicans believe that government can't do anything right for a reason; that reason being the evidence they find in their own careers. If it weren't for her involvement in the caucus scandal, I'd be a lot more inclined to believe she simply screwed everything up. After all, she has a history of it.

But there are enough questions here to justify calling any suspicions of wrongdoing healthy. Citizen Action of Wisconsin is calling for a federal investigation into these magically appearing votes. It should happen. With the state fully red at the moment, an investigation into Nickolaus's office would simply be the Republican Party investigating claims that the Republican Party cheated.

We'll be needing a little more assurance of our elections than that. And the people of Waukesha County need to know whether their Clerk is a crook -- or just hopelessly incompetent.


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