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. Nickolaus, a former legislative caucus aide who worked closely with Republican Governor Scott Walker and Supreme Court Justice David Prosser when both were members of the state Assembly, drew national attention last year when she was charged with organizing the count of ballots in Prosser’s race for reelection with challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. Prosser, Walker’s mentor in the legislature and closest ally on the high court, was threatened with defeat because anger over Walker’s anti-labor initiatives had translated into support for Kloppenburg, an assistant state Attorney General who had worked with Republican and Democratic attorneys general. Kloppenburg’s promise to serve as a jurist who was independent of Walker earned her broad support. On the morning after the election, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that, with all precincts reporting and all absentee ballots counted, Kloppenburg had won by 204 votes.
One day later, however, Nickolaus announced that she had discovered an error had been discovered in the recording of votes from the Waukesha County of Brookfield. Due to the error, Nickolaus said, Prosser had gained 7,500 votes. The state Government Accountability Board dispatched voting specialists to Waukesha County to determine what had gone so horribly awry. The Kloppenburg campaign requested that the US Attorney impound the ballots Nickolaus had found, while elected officials, including Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and state Senator Chris Larson, requested a federal investigation. A lengthy recount, which was plagued by controversy, followed.
But the victory was finally declared for Prosser, who in short order took the lead in overriding legal challenges to the way in which Walker’s anti-labor law was enacted. Since then, he had been accused of physically attacking a fellow justice and directing an obscenity-laced diatribe at the court’s chief justice. Last month, the Wisconsin Judicial Ethics Commission recommended that Prosser be disciplined for misconduct in office. On Tuesday, Kloppenburg was elected without opposition to the state court of appeals. And what of Kathy Nickolaus. She’s in the news again. After Wisconsinites voted Tuesday in presidential primary elections and contests for local posts, other countries across the state reported their returns so quickly that winners were being declared well before 10 pm. Except in Waukesha County.