Over the last few days I’ve been describing some of the major problems with our elections which I cover in The Voting Wars. Too many U.S. jurisdictions allow our elections to be run by political partisans. Local officials have too much control, and often lack adequate training and resources. Political rhetoric has been ratcheted up and mistrust has been building thanks to spurious and exaggerated claims of voter fraud (and in some cases voter suppression) by political provocateurs. Social media inflames partisan passions and could push the next election meltdown into the streets. What can be done to end the voting wars? We might begin by asking about the goals of a fair and effective election system. Most people of good faith considering this problem likely would agree with this statement: an election system should be designed so that all eligible voters, but only eligible voters, may freely cast a vote which will be accurately counted. If we were able to design our system of running elections from scratch, the best way to achieve this goal would be to use a system of national, nonpartisan election administration. The people who run our elections should have their primary allegiance and owe their professional success to the fairness and integrity of the political process and not to a political party. This is how it is done in Australia, Canada, the U.K., and most other serious democracies.
Waukesha County will spend more than $256,000 to fix problems with election procedures. A committee unanimously approved the spending Tuesday, which is expected to receive a vote before the Waukesha County Board next week. The decision comes after a consultant’s report identified several factors behind problems with last year’s State Supreme Court election and the presidential primary earlier this year. The consultant said there was no back-up process for reconciling Election Night totals in the Supreme Court election, which was why Clerk Kathy Nickolaus failed to include 14,000 votes from Brookfield in her countywide totals. That mistake led to a statewide recount in a close contest.
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.
Wisconsin: Investigating, fixing Nickolaus election errors to cost Wisconsin county $256,300 | JSOnline
A consultant’s report traces problems in reporting Waukesha County election results directly to mistakes by outgoing County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus – mistakes that will cost county taxpayers more than a quarter of a million dollars to fix. Nickolaus had promised to post timely results online and update them periodically for the April 3 election. But the public didn’t learn the results of contested local races for hours, while reporters and election reporting service representatives were forced to tabulate the vote totals themselves from long paper tapes hanging on the walls of a meeting room. The embattled county clerk already was under scrutiny because of her role in the 2011 state Supreme Court race, when she left the entire city of Brookfield out of countywide vote totals. When those 14,000 votes were added in, two days after the election, Justice David Prosser had won by 7,000 votes, instead of narrowly losing to Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, as the original count showed. But the uncertainty over the Waukesha County vote led to a statewide recount that confirmed Prosser’s victory.
Wisconsin: Who’s running the election in Waukesha County? Nickolaus’ recall role in question | Journal Sentinel
While Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas and his chief of staff insisted Tuesday that County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus was not the one in charge of election duties for the recall election, she appeared to be at the helm. Nickolaus refused to respond to questions in her office, turning her back and closing her office door while a reporter waited at a service counter. Her deputy, Kelly Yaeger, didn’t respond, either. Nickolaus was observed passing out election supplies to local clerks leading up to Tuesday’s election, and she’s the one who fielded questions Tuesday from the field, said Gina Kozlik, Waukesha’s deputy clerk-treasurer. Shawn Lundie, Vrakas’ chief of staff, said he was confident procedures put in place with Yaeger would ensure smooth reporting of votes Tuesday night. Vote counting in the county clerk’s office appeared to go smoothly – an assessment confirmed by Lundie. About 80% of the vote was reported by about 10 p.m.
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, widely criticized over the conduct of elections in her county, announced Saturday she has decided not to seek re-election in November. But the embattled clerk said in a prepared statement that she would not relinquish “any authority or responsibility” for upcoming elections through the end of her term because “I am the Waukesha County constitutional officer charged with the responsibility of elections.” After problems in the election earlier this month, Nickolaus reportedly agreed under pressure from County Executive Dan Vrakas to cede election responsibilities to her deputy for the upcoming recall races. Her campaign manager said Saturday she “never ever agreed to hand over the responsibility given to her constitutionally as clerk” to administer the elections. “Kathy is still in charge,” said the manager, Dan Hunt, adding Nickolaus was unavailable for comment.
Wisconsin: Government Accountability Board announces plan to speed Waukesha election reports | JSOnline
Vote results from throughout Waukesha County should be available online more quickly in the recall elections because municipal clerks will be entering unofficial results directly into a state vote canvass reporting system, rather than leaving it to the county clerk’s staff. Those results will simultaneously be available to the Waukesha County clerk’s office, which is still responsible for posting results on election night. In a statement Tuesday, Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel for the Government Accountability Board, said the agency created Wisconsin’s canvass reporting system using a federal grant in 2010 so county clerks could use it to report canvass results – the official totals that are checked several days after an election – to the state electronically. However, the Web-based system was built with a tool for municipal clerks to enter unofficial results on election night. Kennedy said all Waukesha County municipal clerks will be asked to use that tool for the May 8 primaries and the June 5 recalls.
Voting Blogs: Rock, Paper, Local: County Officials Still Wield Great Influence Over Elections | Election Academy
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.
Wisconsin: Government Accountability Board to help Waukesha County with election day operations | FOX6Now.com
Looking for the state training requirements to become a county clerk? There is no need to grab a pen. There are none. The details were revealed by the Government Accountability Board when asked what kind of training was required of Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus. “The state law does not have any specific training requirements for county clerks,” says GAB spokesperson Reid Magney. Nickolaus handed over election duties to her deputy clerk, after she was pressured to hand over responsibilities following a chaotic primary night. The clerk says computer software malfunctioned, which forced her office to count and check results by hand. The incident comes less than a year after Nickolaus forgot to hit the save button during the state supreme court election, which changed the result of the statewide race.
Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas said he would publicly call for County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus’ resignation unless she handed off her election duties in the upcoming recalls to her deputy clerk. Nickolaus chose the latter. She agreed to allow outside consultants and county staff to work with her deputy, Kelly Yaeger, to handle the election, Vrakas said. “The county will move swiftly to examine the election night procedures in the county clerk’s office and make changes as necessary to restore the public’s confidence in our elections,” Vrakas said in a statement late this afternoon. In an interview, Vrakas said, “I appreciate the fact that she understands the importance of restoring confidence in Waukesha County election night reporting. Swift, detailed, orderly reporting that should be available on the Internet. When given the choice to step down or step aside, she made the right decision.”
Waukesha County, Wisconsin, has for more than a year been ground zero for the national debate about the mismanagement of elections by partisan officials. While there is very little evidence of supposed voter fraud in America, there are instances where officials who are in charge of elections mangle the process of counting votes—either intentionally or unintentionally—to such an extent that they raise real concerns about the legitimacy of the process. And Waukesha County, the third most populated county in the states and the center of a populous Republican-leaning region that is at the heart of the vote-rich suburban tracts surrounding Milwaukee, has become a focus for those concerns. Now, Waukesha County is back in the headlines after a new vote-counting controversy that has led to calls for the removal of scandal-plagued County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus.
Another election, another controversy over the performance of Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus. Nickolaus may have done her re-election campaign no favors Tuesday night when her plans to post timely election results online and update them periodically for the public failed. Citizens checking for results online were left in the dark for hours after voting ended, while reporters and data collectors for election reporting services resorted to tabulating contested races from yards of paper tapes hanging on walls around a meeting room. The process was akin to reading a long grocery receipt where, in some cases, the tape stretched down the wall and onto the floor in a heap. Problems with Nickolaus’ reporting system were evident soon after the earliest municipal clerks delivered, in person as she required, the voting machine memory packs and paper tapes showing vote totals. When Nickolaus’ staff tried to upload results from the memory cards into the county clerk’s reporting program, it wouldn’t work. “We were shocked,” she said Wednesday, noting that she and her staff had tested the reporting program “many times.”
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said last week she believes she has been exonerated even though her office is undertaking numerous changes in how it handles ballots following the nonreporting of 14,000 votes in the spring Supreme Court election. State investigators in September determined that Nickolaus likely broke the law by not reporting the votes in the hotly contested race between Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, but her conduct was unintentional and not criminal.
… The Government Accountability Board on Tuesday approved numerous changes designed to improve the procedures used by Nickolaus’s office on election night. Both before the meeting and during a break, Nickolaus told reporters that the investigative report vindicated her handling of the votes.
“I’ve been exonerated,” she said. Government Accountability Board director Kevin Kennedy disagreed. “I would not characterize it that way,” Kennedy said. The September report, led by former Dane County prosecutor Timothy Verhoff, found that Nickolaus likely broke state law requiring the posting of all returns on election night.
Wisconsin: Madison gets serious about election administration – a once low-profile city service is now of intense interest to residents | The Daily Page
Nothing can rile a taxpayer quite like an unplowed street or missed garbage pickup. The delivery of basic services can make or break a mayoral career. But a funny thing happened in the last year or so: In two separate city surveys, Madison residents identified election administration as one of the priority services delivered by city employees. In one case, 94% of respondents who attended a community budget meeting on city administration said that election administration was of “high” importance to them, right after the provision of emergency medical service by the fire department but before bus, sewer, snow removal, recycling and refuse services.
A web survey of city residents conducted between July 26 and Sept. 1 had similar results: 72% of respondents rated election administration of high importance. That also ranked higher than such city services as park maintenance, street repair, the management of communicable diseases and traffic safety control.
City Clerk Marybeth Witzel-Behl says she was surprised — and gratified — by the results. “We always thought elections were the most sacred thing we deal with,” says Witzel-Behl. But, she adds, “I didn’t realize the community echoed that value.”
Wisconsin: Lots of Attention for Waukesha County Clerk After Report Confirms Election Violations | Waukesha, WI Patch
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus won’t face any criminal charges for the Supreme Court election results mess caused when she failed to tell anyone about Brookfield’s votes. This week, her actions are getting plenty of attention.
An independent probe into the situation foundNickolaus likely violated state elections laws inher bungled release of state Supreme Court election results in April, but her conduct was not willful or criminal. Read the report.
On Monday, the Appleton Post Crescent wrote in an editorial that Nickolaus should be punished.The paper said it believes her mistake was “an honest mistake,” but that sometimes even those need to be punished.
The state Government Accountability Board has concluded an investigation into the behavior of Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus after the April election for state Supreme Court. The board says Nickolaus violated the law by not posting all returns on election night.
However, the board says her violation was not willful, and therefore did not constitute criminal misconduct. Initial results on election night posted by Nickolaus showed challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg with a narrow lead over Justice David Prosser.
Two days after the election, Nickolaus announced that she had previously failed to report 14,000 votes. With the additional votes turned in, Prosser pulled into the lead.
An independent investigation for the Government Accountability Board has found probable cause to believe that Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus violated state election law on the night of the Supreme Court Election. However, the investigator also found that the violation was not willful and therefore does not constitute criminal misconduct.
Nickolaus failed to report results from Brookfield on election night. The failure led to an initial vote total that showed the race was too close to call. Nickolaus caught the mistake before reporting final vote totals.
“It was pretty clear to me that there wasn’t fraud,” said, former Dane County Prosecutor Tim Verhoff who conducted the investigation.
Wisconsin: Democrats Remove Vote Tampering Allegations in Recall Election | Fox Point-Bayside, WI Patch
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin has pulled a news release from its website that alleges vote tampering in Waukesha County by the county clerk. The party chairman, Mike Tate, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that they would not“not pursue questions of irregularities” that was referenced by the Democratic Party in “heat-of-the-moment statements.”
Earlier: Perhaps one of the most controversial county clerks in Wisconsin, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus is again under political scrutiny during the Alberta Darling recall election. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin is claiming there is tampering going on in Waukesha County.
“The race to determine control of the Wisconsin Senate has fallen in the hands of the Waukesha County clerk, who has already distinguished herself as incompetent, if not worse,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate in a prepared news release. “She is once more tampering with the results of a consequential election and in the next hours we will determine our next course of action. For now, Wisconsin should know that a dark cloud hangs over these important results.”
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin has issued a statement critical of Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus for the length of time it has taken to produce election results from Tuesday’s recall. The race between incumbent Republican Senator Alberta Darling and Democratic Representative Sandy Pasch is the only one not yet called.
Nickolaus came under fire earlier this year, when she was late in reporting thousands of votes in the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court and bags of ballots were not secured.
It’s down to one race for control of the state Senate in Wisconsin and Democrats are accusing a GOP county clerk of holding up the ballot count. GOP incumbent Alberta Darling is leading Democratic Rep. Sandy Pasch 52 percent to 48 percent with nearly 80 percent reporting.
But before 10 of 11 precincts had reported in Senate District 8’s Waukesha County, Democrats began taking aim at clerk Kathy Nickolaus. Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate took the stage at the Majestic Theater to accuse her of “sitting on ballots.”
“We hope the Waukesha County clerk’s office is doing the right thing tonight . . . But it is a little curious isn’t it. Here we are on the cusp of victory . . . and Kathy Nickolaus is sitting on our ballots,” Tate told the crowd of Democrats to a ripple of boos.
When Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said in May that she intended to start providing unofficial election night results broken down by municipality – something that might have flagged the kind of snafu that earned her notoriety after the Supreme Court election this spring – she did not mean all municipal results.
Nickolaus told the County Board’s Executive Committee on Monday that she’ll change her reporting practices based on advice from the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.
When pressed in committee by Supervisor David Swan as to whether she’d return to past practice of showing results for municipalities, even if the state elections officials don’t suggest it, she said, “Not at this point.”
Editorials: Justice Rears Her Head in Wisconsin As Kathy Nickolaus is Investigated by GAB | PoliticusUSA
In case you were wondering where justice was hiding in Wisconsin, she’s reared her head in Waukesha County. County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus will be investigated by the Government Accountability Board, which certified the Wisconsin Supreme Court election in question.
A former Dane country prosecutor will finally be looking into Nickolaus’ conduct. And by conduct, I mean misconduct, including open ballot bags with no secure chain of custody, voter rolls with tags that don’t match ballot bags, a canvas called a day early which took place with Nickolaus never telling the other canvassers about the “lost” votes for two days during the canvas and much more.
After poorly sealed and torn ballot bags became one source of concern during the recent Supreme Court recount, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus plans to introduce new, more secure bags.
She said the bags are made of tougher plastic and are comparable to bags used by banks, with an adhesive tape closing that would reveal signs of tampering. Ballots from individual polling places are bagged after they’re counted on election night and stored either at municipal halls or with the county clerk until results are final and uncontested.
Waukesha County’s 21-day recount of the Supreme Court election results cost county taxpayers about $130,000, county officials reported Tuesday.
Waukesha County’s recount took longer than any other county in the state, in part because of the approach taken by the judge hired to run the recount and because more campaign observers were on hand and raised more concerns about ballots raised.
… The largest share of the cost – $47,000 – was for retired circuit Judge Robert Mawdsley, who was hired as temporary chairman of the Board of Canvassers after County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus recused herself.
Although the state Government Accountability Board promised to release a detailed report of its April investigation of Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus’ election operation by late June, it’s unclear now when or if the report will be coming.
Reid Magney, spokesman for the board, said that because a formal complaint was filed with the board by the JoAnne Kloppenburg campaign, accusing Nickolaus of election law violations, new confidentiality restrictions apply under state law.
While he could confirm that a complaint was filed – one already released publicly by the Kloppenburg campaign – Magney said he couldn’t comment on whether there is an investigation, or when an investigation might be complete.
Wisconsin Supreme Court challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg conceded defeat on Tuesday to conservative incumbent Justice David Prosser, in a race that was widely seen as a referendum on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s divisive legislation stripping most state workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights.
Kloppenburg admitted defeat after a statewide recount reaffirmed Prosser’s victory over her in the April 5 election.
“David Prosser has won the election and I have congratulated him,” Kloppenburg said in a news conference in Madison. “I will not be requesting judicial review of the results of the recount.”
Kathy Nickolaus, the county clerk at the center of the state Supreme Court election controversy and the focus of an ongoing state elections investigation, has been described by colleagues and acquaintances as headstrong and insular, hardworking and independent. She came to local public office, where constituents are the boss, from a staff job at the…
The state’s top election watchdog agency announced Tuesday that it has satisfied itself that results certified by Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus for the April 5 election are consistent with totals reported by municipalities, though “a few anomalies” were found in a four-day investigation. Those discrepancies involved only a handful of votes. “After completing the review…
Wisconsin: State investigating vote irregularities in Waukesha County going back 5 years | Wisconsin State Journal
The state’s investigation into vote irregularities in Waukesha County will stretch back at least five years, the head of the Government Accountability Board said Thursday. Questions over vote totals in Waukesha have lingered over the past week after County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced she failed to report more than 14,000 votes from the city of Brookfield…
Wisconsin: Wisconsin Democrats Calling for Hearings, Probes into Nickolaus’ Election Results | Brookfield, WI Patch
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin today asked state elections officials to review the Waukesha County vote tally in the 2006 state Attorney General election, after a liberal blogger pointed out there were about 17,000 more votes recorded than ballots cast. Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus posted an asterisk on the 2006 results on the county’s…