By Brad Friedman on 4/5/2012, 5:51pm PT  

Waukesha County's oft-failed election administrator, Kathy Nickolaus will not participate in the upcoming recall elections for Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state Senators.

The BRAD BLOG first learned the news from a Wisconsin Election Integrity advocate late this afternoon, and it has now been confirmed with a statement issued by the office of Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas.

Her decision to recuse herself from the May 8th recall primaries and June 5th recall general elections comes on the heels of yet another embarrassing election administration failure this past Tuesday by the controversial County Clerk in one of the Badger State's most Republican counties.

According to Vrakas' statement, the elected Nickolaus --- who will face her own re-election contest later this year --- was given two choices by the County Executive, either resign or step aside for the upcoming recall elections.

"In a meeting this afternoon I presented two options to Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus," Vrakas' statement reads, "resignation, or designating the deputy clerk to run the upcoming recall election."

"Kathy agreed to hand off her election duties to the deputy county clerk in order to avoid my public call for her resignation," says Vrakas. "In stepping aside, Kathy also agreed to allow outside consultants and county staff to work side-by-side with the deputy clerk to help restore confidence in our election process. The county will move swiftly to examine the election night procedures in the County Clerk’s Office and make changes as necessary to restore public’s confidence in our elections."

Calls for her resignation occurred once again following her failure to post local election results online in a timely fashion on the night of the April 3rd primary elections this week.

The BRAD BLOG has been reporting on the many election administration failures of Nickolaus going back as far as 2010 when she refused to change a number of procedures at the request of County Executives after an audit found serious deficiencies in her security processes, such as failing to post election results online, and tracking them only on a personal computer in her own office. But it was the April 5, 2011 election for state Supreme Court (exactly one year ago today) that brought national infamy to Nickolaus...

In the contentious race between her former colleague, Republican Justice David Prosser, and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, Nickolaus failed to include the results of the City of Brookfield in her reported election night totals. After Kloppenburg was announced the unofficial winner on election night by just 204 votes, Nickolaus claims to have discovered the results of 14,000 unreported votes from Brookfield.

She chalked the problem up to a computer failure, but the new results ended up flipping the election in Prosser's favor by some 7,000 votes.

A lengthy statewide hand-count ensued, during which "widespread irregularities" were discovered, particularly in Nickolaus' Waukesha, where ballot bags had been discovered ripped open prior to the counting, security seals were found missing or changed, and some computer results tapes were revealed as having dates indicating they'd been printed days prior to the election.

In the wake of that embarrassment, Nickolaus worked with the state's Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.) to develop new Election Night reporting procedures. But those new processes failed once again last Tuesday night.

Among the new G.A.B.-approved procedures, Nickolaus determined to post poll result tapes printed out by the Waukesha municipalities' paper ballot optical-scan systems before posting results online on Election Night.

In past elections she had refused to publish municipality results at all, posting only county wide numbers. That allowed the missing Brookfield totals to go unnoticed on the night of last year's Supreme Court election. This year, she promised to change that by planned to post local results online immediately.

But that process seems to have failed as well on Tuesday night. The result, according to Laurel Walker of Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel: "Reporters and data collectors for election reporting services resorted to tabulating contested races from yards of paper tapes hanging on walls around a meeting room. The process was akin to reading a long grocery receipt where, in some cases, the tape stretched down the wall and onto the floor in a heap."

Meanwhile, as Nickolaus and her staff attempted to upload incoming results to the county's website from the computer optical-scan memory cards, the process failed yet again.

"We were shocked," Nickolaus said the next day, explaining that she had tested the system "many times" prior to Election Day. For some reason, her staff was simply unable to upload the results as she said they had practiced previously.

Results were not posted to the county website until after 2am Wednesday morning. Some results were not posted on the county website until 6am, according to Joe Petrie and Lisa Sink of the Waukesha Patch.

Earlier today, after calls --- once again --- for her resignation, Nickolaus told 620 WTMJ that she had "no plans on stepping down from the County Clerk position."

She told WTMJ's John Mercure, however, that she'd "be making some major steps in making sure that people feel comfortable with the way that the election administration is done in the office."

By this evening, the embattled County Clerk had agreed to not participate in the state's upcoming, controversial and historic recall elections.

Local Election Integrity advocate, John Washburn (who, in 2010, sat in for Nickolaus at a County Executive meeting to answer questions about her security protocols) tipped us off late today to the news.

He also pointed out his concerns about the accuracy of election results themselves as reported by Nickolaus' office.

Washburn's worries stem from recent revelations following March 13th elections in Palm Beach County, FL where the computer optical-scan systems, made by Sequoia Voting Systems (which has since been purchased by Dominion Voting), reported the incorrect results of three different races leading to losing candidates being declared as "winners" by the central tabulating software known as WinEDS.

Dominion has since admitted the erroneous results were due to a flaw in their software, and a full hand-count of the incorrectly tallied races was carried out last weekend to determine the correct winner.

"Waukesha uses the exact same version of WinEDS as used in Palm Beach," Washburn told us. The same software is also used elsewhere in the state, he says, and yet, according to a conversation he says he had with a G.A.B. official, state election administrators hadn't been made aware of the company's "Product Advisory Notice" [PDF] detailing the software failure (as issued after the Palm Beach debacle) until late this week.

The fact that losing candidates had been named as "winners" was only discovered after a manual examination of a small sample of paper ballots in Palm Beach, where Florida law now requires a 2% post-election spot-check. Wisconsin has no similar audit requirement for their elections. Therefore, whoever the computers report as "winners" in Waukesha will be the winners, barring results close election enough to trigger a recount --- which is carried out in WI by those same failed computers, unless a court order is given.

If the computer tabulators name the wrong winners, as they did in Palm Beach, Wisconsin residents would likely have no idea.

Following the recall elections, Nickolaus herself will also face her own re-election race later this year. The election will be tallied by the very same flawed computer systems and she, presumably, will be back on the job once again by then to oversee the administration of her own re-election contest.

Nickolaus has not yet responded to our request for comment on her decision to step aside for the recall elections.

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UPDATE 4/30/12: Incredibly enough, weeks after the above news was published, Nickolaus now indicates she is not planning to step aside for the recall elections, even as she announced that she no longer plans to run for re-election this fall. Untangling the fine mess here...

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