Security Breach With “Found” Votes in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race

May 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

You recall the “found” votes in Brookfield City that Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus added to her off-system computer a day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court election results and failed to tell the election canvassers about for two days, right? Those votes swung the election to the Republican, Prosser, by around 7,000 votes with a total of 14,000 votes being found after Nickolaus forgot to hit “save” after manually inputting the numbers. Nickolaus, who used to be the computer analyst for the GOP assembly, has a sordid history with the law already, having been granted immunity in a criminal investigation resulting from her work for the GOP assembly. Furthermore, her election security process has been roundly criticized even by Republicans. This is not her first rodeo with found votes that swung an election, either.

So we’re in the recount phase of the Supreme Court election now, and yesterday several large gap openings were discovered on the ballot bags from Brookfield City (home of the “found votes”), causing Prosser’s opponent, Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, to object to the security of the bags. A judge agreed that the openings on the Brookfield City bags were the largest seen so far.

The Journal Sentinel reported:

They’ve raised similar objections four or five times in Waukesha County since the start of the recount, said retired Circuit Court Judge Robert Mawdsley, who’s overseeing the county recount. In an interview, he agreed with objector Bill Hotz’s observation that the bag opening from Brookfield was the largest seen so far.

Hotz said poorly sealed bags or torn bags appear to be a common problem, but they were evident on five of six Brookfield bags that were counted first thing Thursday. He objected to the counting of those ballots where bags appeared to be open.
Brandon O’Bryon, representing Justice David Prosser, objected to the objection, saying Brookfield voters would be disenfranchised if their votes weren’t counted.

As has been the practice from the start, Mawdsley makes a record of the concerns and each objection should a challenge end up in court.

“There are several bags that appear to be improperly sealed,” Mawdsley said for the record. Kloppenburg’s campaign representatives took pictures of the bags in question. The Board of Canvassers agreed to count the votes, which can be identified separately if necessary.

While the Brookfield City Clerk Kristine Schmidt stated that the ballot bags were kept locked up and then transported to the courthouse, this is just one more oddity in a string of oddities surrounding an election widely viewed as extremely important to Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union agenda. We also don’t have a sense of the chain of custody of these bags and why they were never shown to the canvassers as is normally done. Where did they go after the courthouse? Why was Kathy Nickolaus refusing access to them? She claimed they were in her possession at one point. Were the bags torn before or after they were brought to the courthouse?

Another significant question is why Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus waited so long to tell the election canvassers about the “found” votes, never giving them a chance to review the ballot bags or any paper trail of the votes, but rather minutes before a press conference regarding the found votes, showed them a computer print out showing the found votes. Nickolaus also called the canvassers to work early, without any notice or explanation of the earlier than normal canvassing time. Kathy’s long history of data analysis and her practice of inputting vote tallies by hand in addition to refusing to upload the results to the county computer servers (preferring to keep them all on her computer in an office where she has all employees using the same log in and password) has given rise to a lack of trust in election results from her district. NIckolaus attributed the found votes to “human error” claiming she forgot to hit “save” after inputting them to Microsoft Access.

While this appears to be about one rather significant election, what’s also at stake here is citizens’ trust in the process of voting. For years, Nickolaus has refused to make changes suggested to her by the election board and she has been allowed to continue doing things her way. She has shown contempt for the process and has suggested that only she can be trusted to keep the ballots safe and that is why she doesn’t follow procedure. She has been subjected to audits and told to revise her process in the past, but she has roundly ignored these suggestions.

Nickolaus is clerk to a county that has a significantly higher voter turnout than most counties and in this race specifically, more votes were recorded for the Prosser v Kloppenburg race than any other. While this might make sense if you’re not from that area, I’ve been told there were several other important races that the citizens of Waukesha County and Brookfield City were highly engaged in, and if that is true, than that makes this anomaly even more bizarre.

The real shame here is not just an election whose results will never be trusted, but the broader implications for voters in Wisconsin. It pays to be vigilant about whom you elect in your local government. Anyone who tells you that only they can be trusted with information and this is their reason for not following procedure and protocol is generally not someone to whom great power should be given. Nickolaus’ procedures are highly irregular and shouldn’t be tolerated by any citizen, even if this particular election is validated.

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