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Republican clerk’s ‘human error’ corrected, swings Wisconsin Supreme Court election in GOP’s favor

Talk of a Republican-backed recount of a tightly-contested Wisconsin Supreme Court election has been put on hold for now following the revelation that over 14,000 votes from the strongly-Republican Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield were left out of initial vote counts. The Brookfield votes have taken Republican incumbent State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser from a nearly 300-vote deficit to a 7,582-vote lead over his challenger, Democratic Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg.

The discrepancy was the result of human error. Waukesha County, home to Brookfield, stores election results in an electronic database. County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said Thursday:

It’s important to stress that this is not a case of extra votes or extra ballots being found. this is human error, which I apologize for – which is common in this process, which is why the state requires us to conduct a canvass. Every person in Waukesha County that voted on April 5th, their votes counted. After the error was discovered in Brookfield, I reviewed all the other votes with our board of canvass, from every municipality. We have now verified all the results, and are confident that they have been properly reported to the Government Accountability Board.

Nickolaus says that she had failed to properly log the votes in the Microsoft Access database she uses to keep track of election results. Her system of using a database that she alone has access to has come under fire in the past. When asked last year by a county auditing board to consider using an online system that would allow other Waukesha County employees to view election results, Nickolaus said only that she would consider doing so. She was reprimanded at the meeting for simply grinning when asked to make the Waukesha election process more transparent.

Nickolaus’s unfettered and exclusive access to county election results, along with her political leanings, have led some to question the integrity of the new votes that she reported. Wisconsin State Journal reporter Mary Spicuzza said on Twitter:

Kathy Nickolaus worked for Assembly Republican Caucus when Prosser was Speaker. Caucus is controlled by speaker, so he is her former boss.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the caucus was one of several shut down as a result of ethics investigations. Nickolaus is also the president emeritus of the Republican Women of Waukesha County. Democrats on the board that reviewed election results, however, believe Nickolaus’s account.

Election reform advocate Brad Friedman reports on his blog that unless allegations of fraud are formally made, the results will likely remain official. Under Wisconsin law, the state is required to pay for a recount only if the margin of victory is within 0.5 percent. With approximately 1.5 million ballots coming in this election, the 7,582 new votes put Prosser a fraction of a percentage point over 0.5 (.0505 to be precise), meaning Kloppenburg would have to foot the bill herself if she wants to seek a recount.

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