When Waupaca County election officials conducted a recount in the state Supreme Court race last week, they found 91 additional votes for Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg.
Kloppenburg requested the recount after Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus reported two days after the election that she discovered 14,315 untallied votes on her personal computer. Nickolaus attributed her failure to report the results from the city of Brookfield to “simple human error.”
On election night, April 5, Kloppenburg declared victory with a slim 204-vote margin. After Nickolaus held her press conference on April 7 to announce the Brookfield votes, incumbent Justice David Prosser had a lead of 7,316 votes.
Since the margin between the two candidates was less than 0.5 percent, Kloppenburg is entitled under state law to a recount. As of Tuesday morning, the Government Accountability Board (GAB) indicates that 24 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have completed their recounts.
In Waupaca County, the recount discovered that Kloppenburg had received 91 more votes than had been reported on election night.
Waupaca County Clerk Mary Robbins said 68 of the Kloppenburg votes not originally counted had been cast in the town of Larrabee.
Larrabee uses both a touch screen computer, also known as the Edge machine, and paper ballots that are optically scanned by Optech Eagle equipment.
“When Larrabee reported their tallies at the end of the night, they only reported 70 votes for Kloppenburg. There were 68 votes on the optical scan that were not reported,” Robbins said.
The tally on the Eagle scan showed zero votes for Kloppenburg on election night. The discrepancy was not discovered until the votes were recounted by hand.
The recount also found one additional vote for Prosser in Larrabee.
Larrabee citizens cast a total of 395 votes in the Supreme Court race on April 5, with a final result of 253 for Prosser and 138 for Kloppenburg.
Kloppenburg gained another 15 votes in the town of Royalton. There, the recount found that the tallies of the touch screen votes were accurate, but 15 paper ballots that had been cast for Kloppenburg had not been counted by poll workers in Royalton.
In Royalton after the recount, Kloppenburg’s total votes rose from 80 to 95, while Prosser’s total dropped from 211 to 204.
A total of 299 votes were cast in Royalton.
Prior to the recount, Prosser had won in Waupaca County by a vote of 7,205 to 4,938. After the recount, the margin dropped to 7,204 to 5,029.
Robbins said the errors would not have been found without a hand recount of the ballots.
“We all learned a lesson,” Robbins said. “We all need to be more thorough in every election.”
Meanwhile, Kloppenburg has requested an independent investigation of how the Waukesha County clerk performed her duties.
The complaint, filed April 20 by Kloppenburg’s campaign manager with GAB, notes that Nickolaus did not mention Brookfield’s missing ballots when she met with the Board of Canvassers to verify the election results at noon Wednesday, April 6. However, at her press conference on Thursday, April 7, she said she discovered the error on Wednesday morning.
“Nickolaus did not disclose the error in her report of Waukesha County election results to the GAB, the city of Brookfield clerk, or the county canvass board members” prior to her press conference, according to Kloppenburg’s complaint.
The complaint also alleges that Nickolaus has a history of negligence and incompetence.
“In 2001, Ms. Nickolaus was granted immunity from criminal prosecution when she was employed by the Assembly Republican Caucus. The criminal investigation into the partisan caucuses eventually led to the resignations, criminal charges and criminal convictions of Senate and Assembly leaders for directing caucus and staff employees to engage in illegal political activity during their state employment. A criminal complaint issued against then-Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen alleged that Nickolaus, as part of her assigned duties, developed a computer software program for legislators to use to track campaign donations,” Kloppenburg’s complaint alleges.
The complaint notes that in 2004, Nickolaus reported election results in Waukesha County that showed a 97 percent turnout.
In 2005, Nickolaus released sample ballots to the media that had already been marked for one of the candidates. That same year, when Nickolaus released election results, the votes in an Assembly race from a ward were counted twice. The miscount was not corrected until a town clerk called and pointed out that the number of votes cast in the Assembly race were greater than the county’s actual turnout.
In 2010, the Waukesha County Executive Committee requested an audit of the county’s election procedures, which Nickolaus allegedly resisted.
Nickolaus used special software to keep track of votes that is used by no other county clerk in Wisconsin. While other county clerks use the Statewide Voter Registration System, Nickolaus is using a program that the GAB created specifically for Waukesha County.