The Strange Politics of Fitzwalkerstan: GOP Clerk "Finds" Votes to Reverse Defeat of Conservative Wisconsin Justice
Suppose the Democratic governor of Illinois had proposed radical changes in how the state operates, and suppose anger over those proposed changes inspired a popular uprising that filled the streets of every city, village and town in the state with protests. Then, suppose there was an election that would decide whether allies of the governor controlled the state’s highest court. Suppose the results of that election showed that an independent candidate who would not be in the governor’s pocket narrowly won that election.
Then, suppose it was announced by a Democratic election official in Chicago that she had found 14,000 votes in a machine-controlled ward that overwhelmingly favored the candidate aligned with the Democratic governor. And suppose the Democratic official who “found” the needed ballots for the candidate favored by the Democratic governor had previously been accused of removing election data from official computers and hiding the information on a personal computer, that the official’s actions had been censured even by fellow Democrats and that she her secretive and erratic activities had been the subject of an official audit demanded by the leadership of the Cook County Board.
Now, suppose that the number of additional votes tabulated for the governor’s candidate was precisely the amount needed to prevent the independent candidate from demanding an official recount.
Would even the most naive Illinoisan simply accept at face value that the new count was “legitimate” or that the governor’s candidate should suddenly be presumed to have been “elected”? Not likely.
Wisconsinites should respond with equal skepticism to the news that Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, a former Republican legislative staffer who worked for Prosser when he served as Assembly Speaker and with Walker when he was a GOP rising star, has found all the votes that justice needs to secure his reelection and that the governor needs to claim a “win” for his agenda.
There is no need for a conspiracy theory. The facts raise the questions that lawyers, campaigners and activists are now asking.
The clerk, who has a history of secretive and erratic handling of election results, says she forgot to count the votes of Brookfield, the county’s second-largest city, in the total for Tuesday’s Supreme Court election.
Nickolaus claims that it was “human error” that caused her to “lose” the Brookfield results on her personal computer where she had secreted away the data. Yet, she apparently knew of the “mistake” for 29 hours before reporting it and then handed the information off to conservative bloggers and talk-radio personalities.
But what is most important to note are the numbers. With Governor Scott Walker’s candidate, Justice David Prosser, essentially tied with his independence-and-integrity challenger, Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, it was all but certain that a recount would be required. And the final unofficial count, as tabulated Wednesday afternoon, put Kloppenburg ahead by several hundred votes, giving the challenger an advantage gloing into the thje count.
Then, two days after the election, Nickolaus found the 7,582 votes needed to put Prosser outside the zone of a state-funded official recount.
Former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager says she’s the developments require inquiry and explanation.
The Kloppenburg campaign has demanded “a full explanation of how and why these 14,315 votes from an entire City were missed.” As part of the search for that explanation, the campaign plans to file open records requests for all relevant documentation related to the reporting of election results in Waukesha County, as well as to the discovery and reporting of the errors announced by the County.”
The open records highlight concerns about the credibility of Nickolaus -- whose secretive and suspicious activities led the Waukesha County Board’s executive committee order an audit of the clerk's use of election equipment and her controversial approaches to counting and tabulating votes.
That’s appropriate. But these requests do not go far enough.
Weeks ago, state Rep. Mark Pocan, the former co-chair of the legislative Joint Finance Committee, suggested that the lawless actions of Governor Walker and his legislative consigliere, state Senator Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, had remade Wisconsin as a rogue state he dubbed “Fitzwalkerstan.”
After a snap 17-second tally that denied most Assembly Democrats a chance to vote on Walker’s anti-labor agenda, after the threats to deny Democratic state senators legislative voting rights, after the attempts to close the Capitol to the people of Wisconsin, after the violations of open-meetings laws, after the flagrant violations of a judges temporary-restraining order, the “Fitzwalkerstan” label seems increasingly apt. And the idea of leaving an inquiry into the Waukesha County scandal to authorities who bow to the governor’s is simply untenable.
The circumstance lends legitimacy to the call by the advocacy group Citizens Action of Wisconsin for “an immediate federal investigation and immediate impoundment of all computer equipment, ballots, and other relevant evidence needed to verify a fair vote count in Waukesha County. “ Citizen Action says this investigation should include an accounting of all communications by “Kathy Nickolaus and anyone in the Waukesha clerk’s office with all outside actors, and all interested parties to the election dispute.”
It also demands a full recount, no matter what the ultimate margin of victory or defeat. Whether David Prosser or JoAnne Kloppenburg is elected, the only way that the high court will retain even a shred of credibility is if every ballot is recounted, every tabulation is reviewed and every citizen is certain that this election was legitimate.
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