Lately, the news has been full of debates and discussions about the impact on election administration of decisions made by federal and state government. These are, to be sure, important questions but two recent stories have reinforced the enduring power of local government – and in particular, local election officials. In Waukesha County, Wisconsin, embattled county clerk Kathy Nickolaus (who figured prominently in last fall’s hotly-contested campaign for the state Supreme Court) agreed to relinquish her election dutiesafter encountering difficulties with tallying the returns from the state’s April 3 primary.
What’s significant is that the pressure for Nickolaus’ action came from an individual who, technically, has no power to remover her: the Waukesha County Executive. Last week, he said that he would publicly call for Nickolaus’ resignation unless she agreed to allow a deputy and outside consultants to handle the upcoming high-profile recall votes in Waukesha:
“I am responsible for the efficient operation of the county,” he said. “It’s not easy sitting behind the county executive’s desk, so when I see a part of our operation that needs attention I’m not afraid to take action. It’s not just about Tuesday. It’s something that has built up in past elections. It’s been an issue that’s been building.”
Contrast that with the the building controversy in Douglas County (Omaha), Nebraska, where election commissioner Dave Phipps is under fire for his plan to close nearly half of the county’s polling placesboth as a result of redistricting and in an effort to save funds. That decision led the Nebraska Secretary of State to send the Governor’s office an email about a month ago expressing concern about the impact of the poll closures, but recently the Secretary conceded that Phipps’ decision was not illegal and thus he saw no reason to investigate.