There have been a few pieces of noteworthy news out of Wisconsin over the last few days in advance of their recall election primaries on May 8th (one week from Tuesday) and the recall general elections on June 5th. Some is largely positive for fans of democracy, but some of it, however, is both puzzling and a bit disturbing.
In the upcoming contests, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, his Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and the seats of four Republican state Senators will all face a referendum by the citizenry at the ballot box. The historic elections come more than a year after the GOP took over all branches of state government during the 2010 wave election before proceeding to
release the Kraken spark a popular uprising through the tyranny of Big Government removal of a number of citizen rights --- such as collective-bargaining and voting --- along with the heavy-handed implementation of a number of other extreme Rightwing policies.
Here's are several of those late developments --- not concerning the horse races, but concerning the actual track conditions for those races...
Republican Photo ID Restriction Law Definitely On Hold Through Recalls
Late last week, Wisconsin's District 4 Court of Appeals confirmed that the polling place Photo ID restriction law jammed through the GOP-majority state legislature and signed by the Republican Governor last year will definitely not be in effect for the recall elections:
The disenfranchising Photo ID law had already been blocked by injunctions --- one temporary and one permanent --- in two separate court challenges, after findings by the two separate judges in each case that the law was in violation of the Badger State Constitution's guaranteed right to vote for all residents 18 or older (with a few narrow exceptions for felons and the mentally impaired.)
Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen had vowed to appeal both decisions nonetheless, attempting to stay the injunctions on an emergency basis before the recalls. His efforts made it all the way to the State Supreme Court which recently refused, for the time being, to hear either case. That means the actual trial in the NAACP case, where a temporary injunction had been instituted, would continue as planned, and the stay the permanent injunction in the League of Women Voters' case would be sent back to be heard by the District 4 Appellate Court. That court is the one which has now said the case will not be heard before the recalls, effectively keeping the permanent injunction in place for now.
Republicans, however, hold out hope that the removal of voting rights for disproportionately Democratic-leaning voters, via their Photo ID restrictions, might be re-instated by the Republican-majority State Supreme Court before the Presidential election this November.
We've spent considerable time here at The BRAD BLOG over the last several months detailing both the state challenges to the law (here and here), as well as the stories of a number of the long-time legal voters whose right to vote had been threatened by it, including 84-year old Ruthelle Frank, 77-year old Bettye Jones as well as many others, some of whom actually were disenfranchised by it during a recent local primary election and even in the state Presidential Primary well after the law was supposed to have been put on hold by the two separate judges.
For now, anyway, legal voters who wish to vote in the recall elections will, happily, not be barred for lack of a Photo ID.
Kathy Nickolaus Will Not Seek Re-Election But Will Still Oversee Recalls?
Some news that appears to be encouraging --- at least as reported by almost all the news outlets which picked up this story since the weekend --- is not actually encouraging at all. It's rather troubling, in fact. But you'd have to get past the headlines of those reports to realize it.
Earlier this month, we reported that Kathy Nickolaus, the controversial and oft-failed Waukesha County Clerk of the state's most Republican-leaning jurisdiction, had been forced to step aside from her duties during the recall elections in order to avoid calls for her resignation by the Republican County Board of Executives. The agreement she reportedly entered into allowed for her deputy, Kelly Yaeger, to take the reigns during both the May 8 and June 5 contests.
As we explained at the time, however, Yaeger was both hired and trained by Nickolaus herself, offering little comfort to, well, anybody actually paying attention, including Wisconsin's Republican Election Integrity expert John Washburn of Wisconsin Fair Elections who told us at the time that he had no more confidence in Yaeger than he had in Nickolaus. New news over the weekend underscores Washburn's concerns even further (but more on that in a moment.)
In the wake of the news that Nickolaus planned to step aside during the recalls, new Election Night reporting procedures were announced a bit over a week ago in Waukesha. The new scheme, announced by Yaeger, would allow a number of the largest municipalities in the county to report computer-tallied results after the close of polls directly to the state's top election agency, the WI Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.), thus avoiding the disaster point at county headquarters.
While Nickolaus was, in theory, forced to step aside for the recalls --- thanks to a reported agreement with Dan Vrakas, the Republican chair of the County Executive Board, which was embarrassed once again after yet another Nickolaus disaster on the night of the April 3rd Presidential Primary --- the Waukesha Clerk had planned to return to her regularly scheduled role as election administrator in time to oversee her own re-election contest that was to have been on the November ballot.
Over the weekend, however, news emerged that helps make her actual role in the recall elections considerably murkier.
The lede of most of the reports of the weekend news was that Nickolaus finally appears to have seen the writing on the wall and has announced that she will not, after all, seek re-election for the position that she has failed at so many times during her nearly 10 years as Waukesha County Clerk.
That can only be seen as good news, in general, for Election Integrity advocates and fans of overseeable, transparent democracy.
However the disturbing news is what came along with that announcement, as detailed by Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel...
After problems in the election earlier this month, Nickolaus reportedly agreed under pressure from County Executive Dan Vrakas to cede election responsibilities to her deputy for the upcoming recall races.
Her campaign manager said Saturday she "never ever agreed to hand over the responsibility given to her constitutionally as clerk" to administer the elections. "Kathy is still in charge," said the manager, Dan Hunt, adding Nickolaus was unavailable for comment.
The deputy clerk will serve as liaison between municipal clerks and county clerks, oversee election result processes and make sure the results are reported to the Government Accountability Board, Hunt said.
Clear as mud, right?
So Nickolaus is not stepping aside for the recall elections after all? A response by Vrakas did little to clear up the confusion...
"Our goal all along has been to restore public confidence in our elections," Vrakas said. "The Clerk's announcement does not affect our plans to improve the election process. I remain committed to doing whatever I can to ensure our elections are smoothly run and that the unofficial vote totals on election night are tabulated accurately and released to the public in a timely manner."
[NOTE: We've sent a query to Vrakas in hopes that he might be able to help clear up some of this mess as to what his agreement actually was with Nickolaus, and what duties he expects from her in the recall elections. If we hear back from him, we'll update this report with that information.]
The Journal-Sentinel goes on to describe some details which echo some of the concerns first expressed by Washburn during our interview with him on the Mike Malloy Show, which we were guest hosting on the evening that news of Nickolaus' supposed deal with Vrakas, to avoid resignation by stepping aside for the recalls, was first announced.
The paper reports that, since the April 3 Primary Election mess, Nickolaus "has been working with her deputy on recall election preparations, though her statement Saturday emphasized that she's still in charge"...
So, the important preparations for the upcoming recall elections --- such as working with municipalities on the programming of ballots for the electronic vote tabulation systems used in Waukesha, is still seemingly under the control of the partisan and disastrously inept Kathy "Waukashame" Nickolaus.
Just in case some had been resting a bit easier about recall election results for Waukesha County, based on previous reports --- and in the event that anybody had missed our prior warnings about both the Nickolaus-Yeager axis and the continuing concerns about the oft-failed, easily-gamed e-voting systems in use in Waukesha (and elsewhere in the state) --- you've now been put on notice once again.
As to those e-voting systems we've tried to warn you about...
Tabulators That Announced Wrong 'Winners' to be Used Again in Recalls
While the new processes for some of Waukesha's municipalities to report unverified, computer-generated Election Night results directly to the state G.A.B., before sending them to Nickolaus' Waukesha County Headquarters (no matter who is actually in charge that night there) may speed things up for the media to report those unverified results, it has little to do with their accuracy, or the ability of citizens to oversee them.
When we wrote just over a week ago about the new Waukesha plan, we warned about some of the real concerns for election results in Waukesha and elsewhere in the state, and included some advice on how citizens could try to help assure accuracy with oversight --- at least to some extent.
With the recall primaries just one week away now --- and no changes having been made in the actual flawed computer tabulators used in the state --- it's worth repeating some of what we reported and warned of just over a week ago, for those who didn't catch it the first time...
Concerns about accurate results of the upcoming recall elections in Waukesha have been multiplied of late thanks to a remarkable software failure during a March 13th election in Palm Beach County, FL on the very same model of computerized tabulators as those used in Waukesha (and other counties around the state, as well as some 14 other states across the nation).
During Palm Beach County elections, paper ballot optical-scanners made by Sequoia Voting Systems had incorrectly reported a number of candidates winning their races on Election Night, even though they'd received fewer votes than their opponents. Luckily, the failure was spotted by the Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections during a post-election spot-check of the paper ballots some days later. The correct results of the elections later were determined by a 100% hand-count of those ballots. No such post-election spot-check is carried out after elections in Wisconsin.
Dominion Voting, the Canadian firm which recently acquired Sequoia Voting Systems (and lied about it), has admitted the errors in Palm Beach were caused by programming flaws in all existing versions of their central tabulator systems, the same systems which are still used in Waukesha.
Election expert Washburn has personally worked with Nickolaus at various times over the years, even sitting in for her during a County Executive meeting some years ago. Nonetheless, he says there will be little reason to have confidence in reported recall results out of Waukesha.
He advises that voters with concerns about results of the elections should go to polling places just before they close in order to oversee the poll closing process and the printing of results from computer tabulators at the precinct.
"Show up for the closing of the elections at eight-o'clock. At that point it's an open meeting, turn on the camera," advised Washburn on the Malloy Show earlier this month.
Once polls close, he notes, the proceedings are then an open meeting by the local board of canvassers which may be recorded by cameras and other devices.
"Record what you see," he says. "If you see anything weird, insist that it be put on the Inspector's Report, because if it ain't on the official election report, it didn't happen."