In a dramatic turnaround in a state Supreme Court election full of dramatic turnarounds in Wisconsin, Waukesha County’s clerk has announced that due to human error, vote totals for the city of Brookfield had not been included in the final totals for her county. The resultant addition added a net of 7,583 votes to David Prosser’s total, putting him in a commanding lead over JoAnne Kloppenburg.
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, a former Assembly Republican staffer, explained the mistake in a press conference:
Nickolaus said she failed to properly save a spreadsheet after inputting the Brookfield numbers Election Night, leading to the error. Once she ran the report to show the aggregate numbers for the county, she assumed incorrectly the Brookfield numbers were included.
She said the mistake was discovered yesterday during the canvass.
She stressed it was not a case of votes being found.
“I’m thankful that this error was caught early in the process and during the canvass,” Nickolaus said. “The purpose of the canvass is to catch these kinds of errors.”
There are a host of questions associated with this discovery. First, Nickolaus’ practices for handling elections have been called into question before. She apparently put the election results collection and tallying system on her personal computer, with a password that only she knows. She has resisted multiple efforts to review the system and the backup, or to bring more people into the process rather than just her. In 2010 she was subject to an audit that criticized her methods. The entire election system for the county is on this standalone equipment. And that just so happens to be the county that “finds” the extra votes.
Despite these questions about process, it’s worth noting that the Democratic member of the canvassing board agreed with the results:
Ramona Kitzinger, the Democratic member of the county board of canvass, defended the process. She agreed with Nickolaus that the board “went over everything and made sure that all the numbers jived up, and they did.”
“I’m the Democratic vice chair of Waukesha County, so I’m not going to stand here and tell you something that’s not true,” Kitzinger said.
In addition, the numbers in Brookfield, the missing city in the initial count, were broadcast on April 6, the day after the election. So these votes do exist, it seems, though the process is quite fishy. And the total turnout for Waukesha County has been called into question after viewing these numbers, by One Wisconsin Now:
On Tuesday, shockingly-large turnout suddenly emerged from Waukesha County, which did not comport with either the results of previous spring elections, or even internal estimates from city officials mid-day. In fact, a Waukesha City Deputy Clerk said at 1:18pm that turnout was very typical, predicting somewhere between 20 to 25 percent. As Tuesday night wore on, reporting in Waukesha County stopped altogether for hours, leaving observers to wonder what was going on. Then suddenly, results suggesting massive turnout started to pour in rapidly with Prosser adding dramatically to his total by a 73-27 percent margin.
One Wisconsin Now estimates put overall turnout near 38 percent, a wild outlier to historical data and the earlier mid-day estimation of Waukesha’s own officials. In April 2009, turnout was 20 percent; April 2008, turnout was 22 percent and in April 2007, turnout was 24 percent. All of these elections had hotly-contested Supreme Court races as well.
Others have claimed that the turnout does not yield any red flags.
The news was broken earlier today at National Review Online, by a operative at the conservative Wisconsin Public Research Institute.
Uppity Wis sums it up:
This may turn out to be true. But you can certainly understand why supporters of JoAnne Kloppenburg, who was leading by 204 votes in unofficial returns on Wednesday, will be disbeleving. They will no doubt claim fraud. It may be a little hard to swallow that a Republican clerk in the biggest vote-producing county in the vote for conservative candidates, including Prosser, discovered another 14,000 votes in her personal computer, if that’s where they were. Only Christian Schneider knows, presumably.
Kloppenburg could still call for a recount if all the other numbers hold. The margin of victory will be close to the 0.5% margin where the state would pay for a recount. It’s too early to tell what strategy will be employed. Needless to say, there’s a lot of wind out of the sails at the Kloppenburg camp at the moment.
It’s a good thing that Prosser hasn’t hired the lawyer on the Bush side of the Florida recount prior to this, or things would get really crazy.