Wisconsin Republican “finds” more than 7500 more votes for Prosser

This is long, so I’m going to bottom-line it at the top — This may not be fraud, but if it is, and no one audits the Brookfield city votes against the recorded totals, the Republicans will get away with it.

As you’ve no doubt heard, the Waukesha Wisconsin County Clerk, Republican Kathy Nickolaus, reported Thursday night that she “forgot to save” when transferring voting data from a spreadsheet to her Microsoft Access database. As a result, the votes of an entire town of (mainly Republican) voters were not recorded. That database is kept on her personal computer, in her office, and nowhere else.

There are quite a few twists to this story, so I’ll give it to you in two forms. The first is this excellent end-of-week report by Rachel Maddow, a follow-up to her earlier breaking-news reporting. The second is a set of print resources.

The video below is the follow-up segment; click the link for the earlier report to see Nickolaus, the county clerk in question, talk (at 2:10 in the segment) about the Access database and the “matter of the save”.


So, a lot going on here. Rachel doesn’t deal with the Access database, or the fact that in its delivered state, Access always saves each record you modify when you move to the next record. For more on that, click here.

Rachel also doesn’t deal with the number of votes Nickolaus “found” — but there’s a critical break point at which a narrow election triggers state funding for a recount, and a wider election requires candidate funding. I’m not sure of the exact vote differential needed to trigger state funding, but this Daily Kos diarist says the number is about 7400. Kathy Nickolaus’ “discovery” gave her former boss, David Prosser, 7582 additional votes.

Here’s a Think Progress report that details much of what Maddow discussed regarding Kathy Nickolaus’ background:

Critics are saying there’s only two possible explanations for this bizarre development: foul play, or incompetence. In an awkward press conference last night, Nickolaus went with option B[.] … The evidence shows that Nickolaus is a partisan GOP operative, but the evidence also reveals a long history of incompetence on her part.

Think Progress then dishes the history, much of which Maddow also explained. That history includes the fact that through much of the 1990s, Kathy Nickolaus worked for David Prosser when he was the Republican leader of the Wisconsin State Assembly and she was an employee of the Republican Caucus; it deals with the scandals that Rachel mentioned in the clip; and it adds this:

Nickolaus Was Audited After She Moved Official Data To Her Personal Computers: Her county’s Executive Committee ordered an audit of her office after they discovered that she “removed the election results collection and tallying system from the county computer network . . . and installed it on standalone personal computers in her office.

The Wisconsin State Journal put that last point this way (my emphasis):

[L]ast summer, the Waukesha County Board ordered an internal audit of her office, citing concerns Nickolaus was secretive and refusing to cooperate with the county’s technical staff in a security review of the computerized election system.

Awfully suspicious, but still not prima facie evidence of scandal. This Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article is excellent on the subject of the investigation by state officials, also mentioned in the Maddow clip above (my emphasis):

State election officials combed through Waukesha County election results Friday but fended off calls for examining individual ballots as Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg remained locked in a contentious Supreme Court race.

Kevin Kennedy, director of the state Government Accountability Board, dispatched staff to Waukesha County to verify results after Thursday’s “Brookfield bombshell” saw thousands of previously untabulated votes going to Prosser, pushing him ahead in the race.

Kennedy also questioned why Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus had waited more than a day to inform him and the public of the error.

There’s great detail in this thorough article, but note the part about not examining individual ballots. The article later explains:

Kennedy said state officials would not be checking the ballots from Brookfield or the rest of the county before any possible recount. To do that would require the Accountability Board to go to court, and Kennedy said that he didn’t believe that was warranted as of now.

Kevin Kennedy is the man that Rachel’s interviewee, Mordecai Lee has confidence in. The decision not to audit the votes against the tally is a judgement call, and not without legal difficulties. Still, it would be nice to be sure, given that a possible 10-year reign of Movement Conservatives from the state’s high court is at stake.

This is not, as I said, prima facie evidence of wrong-doing. But it’s also not evidence of not wrong-doing either. If there was fraud, they could have managed to keep it within statistical norms. In my mind, we should not presume either guilt or innocence.

Goal Thermometer So where do we stand? From the Journal Sentinel again:

[U]pdated but not yet final results compiled by the Journal Sentinel showed Prosser ahead by 6,744 votes out of nearly 1.5 million cast – a difficult margin to overcome in a recount but one that could still leave Kloppenburg with the possibility of a free recount under state law. Both campaigns acknowledged they were seeking advice from the top recount attorneys in the nation, but a campaign aide to Kloppenburg held off on saying whether she would seek the first statewide recount in two decades.

“We’re going to let the process, the (official) canvass conclude and see where things are at that point,” Kloppenburg’s campaign manager Melissa Mulliken said.

The article explains why finding 7500 Prosser votes in Brookfield yields a 6744 vote lead. This is well below the 7400 vote differential noted above as allowing a state-financed recount, but a daunting number nonetheless.

On the recount front, Kloppenburg is being advised by the same attorney who handled Al Franken’s recount, as well as Mark Dayton’s in his race against Tom Emmer, both in Minnesota. Prosser’s team includes Ben Ginsberg, one of the key attorneys in … ready? … the 2000 Florida recount.

As I said above: If this is fraud, and no one audits the Brookfield city votes against the recorded totals, the Republicans will get away with it.

If nothing else, auditing t
he vote would certainly save a ton of speculation about what “abnormal turnout” means in Brookfield.

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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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