Sometime after final testing of Waukesha County’s election software – but before the April election – County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus mysteriously changed something in her office’s computer programming, according to a consulting firm’s report released Tuesday. Only Nickolaus knows what she did. The consultants can’t figure it out, and she’s not talking. But whatever she did, it caused a breakdown in reporting election results that will cost county taxpayers $256,300 to fix, the report says. And that’s not the only money that Waukesha County will have to spend to get its election systems operating properly, County Executive Dan Vrakas said Tuesday. Aging hardware is out of compliance with federal standards and nearing the end of its useful life, the report says. That equipment was supposed to be replaced in 2009, but Nickolaus killed the project because county purchasing officials wouldn’t let her award a no-bid contract, said Norm Cummings, county director of administration. Now Vrakas and the County Board will need to spend unknown amounts of money in the 2013 and 2014 budgets to replace that equipment before the 2014 gubernatorial election, Cummings said.
Vrakas ordered the report after major problems surfaced in the April 3 election. Although Nickolaus had promised to post timely results online, the public didn’t learn the results for hours, as reporters and election reporting service representatives were forced to tabulate the vote totals them selves from long paper tapes. A proposed fund transfer ordinance, released Monday, briefly summarized some findings from the report by SysLogic Inc., a Brookfield consulting firm. More details emerged when the full report became available Tuesday.
SysLogic found Nickolaus had ordered an upgrade of election software, and after that upgrade, she was the only one trained to program the election computers. When the reporting system failed, Nickolaus had said she was “shocked,” because it had been tested repeatedly. But, the report says, Nickolaus made a programming change between the end of testing and election night.