In The News
Those sudden Prosser votes and the strangely sheepish GOP
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted April 18, 2011
I’m still trying to understand why the wrong political party is demanding an investigation and firing of Republican Waukesha County election clerk Kathy Nickolaus – and why her own party so casually reacted to the event and her refusal to step aside.
Step back to the election night of April 5. As weak as Gov. Walker has become in reality, she made it look twice as bad and cost the party that first gave her big-time attention -–working under Assembly leader David Prosser in Madison before assuming major election office -- the only moment of victory that could have been claimed the morning after a very rough day at the polls. The preliminary conclusion of state nonpartisan election overseers is no malice involved — but is it normal for the Republic party to act like contented cows when public workers commit massive blunders?
Let’s suppose there was no hanky-panky by a veteran GOP operative and acknowledged expert on every GOP cranny of a lopsided GOP county. Let’s believe for now – until the detailed recount that virtually every responsible citizen wants to confirm no hanky-panky -- that she just blew it. That though she received 14,315 votes from the oh-so forgettable Brookfield, the county’s second largest city, she not only neglected to save the votes, she didn’t notice till days later that she failed to forward 11% of the county tally to the state.
A closest socialist couldn’t have done the GOP greater harm. Consider the consequences. To the entire state and the nation, the unknown JoAnne Kloppenburg did the nigh impossible in six weeks.
She came out of nowhere to run even with -- and then actually beat -- established GOP figure and incumbent Prosser by 200 votes. She robbed Walker of his surefire conservative bloc on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and she guaranteed the national media view that Walker had swooned in the hearts and minds of the Wisconsin public.
She gave Democrats good reason to think they were gaining even more quickly than the realists among them actually believed election night.
I heard the proof – the crossed fingers giving way to flabbergast -- at Chris Abele’s victory party near the Pabst Brewery late election night. This from a partisan crowd that expected him to clobber Jeff Stone as he did in the county executive race with 61% of the vote but kept disbelieving, hoping, groaning, praying, then hollering in amazement as Kloppenburg inched past Prosser on the TV screens at 2 in the morning.
All that enthusiasm is not going away – it is still fueling the campaign against Walker and the recall of GOP senators – but it certainly took a setback two days later when Nicholaus mystified all sides with the announcement that she had omitted all those votes in her tally and that Prosser was now 7,300 ahead rather than 200 behind – and more than that, she didn’t share that reality for a day after realizing it.
Everyone expected a few dozens votes might move around. Everyone (even extremist radio early in the game) understood the expert advice offered to both sides -- to declare victory if you’re ahead in the final count, even by a few votes. But 7,500? Votes that were there but weren’t included? Unbelievable! If there can be a moral victory without actually winning, this would describe where Kloppenburg now stands. But frankly there are no moral victories in politics, just a very bad odor when something doesn’t feel right and you can’t prove it.
Candidly, the biggest limburger in this case was that the GOP was not calling for her head. At worst Nickolaus was the inevitable discolored fruit of partisan blindness or flat incompetence – as it was described on national TV by UWM Prof. Mordecai Lee and others. But she robbed the GOP of any shred of media victory, cost Walker tons of bad publicity and made the state’s most Republican county look like it is not open for business but open for hiring boobs.
The only reason I can think of that the GOP didn’t land all over her is that they also thought there was something fishy going on -- but in their favor, and they didn’t want to say anything to undo the game. In truth, no one was sure.
Certainly the Republicans can take no comfort in the aftermath. Nickolaus’ record as an untrustworthy and secretive official in previous races and in confrontations with her bosses has come back to haunt her. That insistence on secrecy, passwords, her own private computer and her own methods simply exposed how missteps or something worse were bound to happen.
Moreover, the entire voter I.D. bill and attacks on same day registration for voters the GOP has been engaged in now look doubly ridiculous. The “Where’s Waldo Prosser?” dilemma reminded all that the dangers of voter fraud lurk within the computer, with how Excel templates and Access macros can be manipulated, how people who proudly proclaim their computer naiveté are leaving too much of their information (not to mention money) in the hands of people who know a little more about technology. The haughty database doyen becomes the one-eyed king in the land of the blind.
The bizarre indifference of Waukesha County to what had happened to its vaunted voting procedures underscored the inequality expressed to the Labor Press April 8 – and widely quoted since -- by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm, who has investigated endless false claims from the GOP about voter fraud along with real cases of poll blunders. He pointed out what would have happened had 7,500 more votes for Kloppenburg been found in Milwaukee County: “There would be state police squads flying in immediately and every computer and ballot box would be confiscated and secured instantly.”
Of course, no such concern erupted where it probably should have – in Waukesha County.
Such is the myth that is now becoming expensive state law, such is the foolish belief that flashing a photo ID in front of an octogenarian poll worker will combat invented miscreants (as opposed to double-checks on computer networks and voting records where missteps do occur). As Chisholm pointed out, the lack of even-handed dealing tells you something far more essential about creating good systems.
I’m trying to give the GOP and Waukesha County the benefit of the doubt why they have not been the angriest at Nickolaus for costing them so much with her “human error.” They can’t be credited with greater tolerance of inept public servants – not given the way they’re acting everywhere else in the state, not given the glee so many in the GOP are taking at the loss of older workers and teachers who are rushing into early retirement because they fear what Walker will do to them before they are ready to stop working.
No wonder a lot of citizens who want to believe in impartiality are reading what happened in Waukesha as rotten. If that was jumping ahead of the facts, it is a taint that Walker and his cronies’ behavior sure fostered.