Last night, Republican Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus rocked Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election by claiming that she had suddenly found 14,315 lost votes in the most conservative county in the state. If these newly discovered votes are legitimate, they give incumbent conservative Justice David Prosser a more than 7,500 vote lead — a number that almost exactly matches the margin he needs to avoid a recount at the state’s expense.
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 purpose of the canvass is to catch these types of errors. It is important to stress that this is not a case of extra votes, or extra ballots being found. This is human error. [pause] Which I apologize for. [pause] Which is common in this process. [pause] Which is why the state requires us to conduct a canvass.
The evidence shows that Nickolaus is a partisan GOP operative, but the evidence also reveals a long history of incompetence on her part. Here is what we know about Kathy Nickolaus:
- Prosser is Nickolaus’ Former Boss: Throughout the 1990s, Nickolaus worked for the Wisconsin State Assembly’s Republican Caucus. For much of that time, Justice Prosser was the GOP Minority Leader and then the Speaker of the Assembly. So Prosser was Nickolaus’ boss.
- Nickolaus Received Immunity For Testimony On A Campaign Scandal: In 2001, the partisan caucuses in the state legislature were investigated for alleged illegal use of state resources to secretly run campaigns. Nickolaus received immunity in return for her testimony about her role in this scandal.
- Nickolaus Has Blown Vote Counts In The Past: Nickolaus once posted the wrong outcome in a local school board race, before her error was caught and the correct outcome was posted.
- 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.
All of this evidence raises a cloud of uncertainty over any vote counts, and it raises disturbing questions about the legitimacy of this election. If Nickolaus’ newly found votes are upheld, Prosser will serve another ten year term on the state’s highest court. That means that for the next decade, Prosser will cast often-decisive votes in important litigation — even though many of the parties appearing before him will question whether he belongs there in the first place.
No matter who emerges as the winner from this vote counting fiasco, however, the mere fact that this election proved so close is still an important blow to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) anti-union agenda. Last February, Prosser’s challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg placed 27 points behind Prosser in a primary to determine which two candidates would face off in the general election. So even in Kloppenburg ultimately loses, progressives will likely claim a partial victory in her overcoming a massive 25 plus point deficit to give Prosser near-loss.