Another Election Night Snafu in Waukesha County
County Clerk Nickolaus under the spotlight again as changes in election procedures mean lengthy delay in tallying votes throughout the county.
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, who has been under fire for past election snafus, is at the center of attention again because new procedures in tallying votes resulted in lengthy delays in getting election results Tuesday.
Nickolaus, who garnered national attention last April when her office made a mistake that flipped the outcome of a hotly contested state Supreme Court race, said she introduced new procedures Tuesday to follow guidelines set forth by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections in the state.
As a result, some elections results were not posted on the county's website until 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Her office, which said it would post local results online, posted few results and asked the media and political campaigns to hand-count the returns, using voting machine printouts taped to the walls around a room.
Related story: County Results Problematic in Brookfield
Nickolaus' staff placed names of communities and ward numbers on the walls of a conference room right outside her office in the Waukesha County Administration Center. As results were brought in from municipalities, she and her staff would bring results tape out and place them on the walls underneath their respective communities and wards.
Although in past elections she would immediately place vote totals on the county’s website for county, state and federal races, the process was abandoned Tuesday. That meant reporters, campaign workers and those running for local office had to come into the conference room and add up the numbers themselves.
Nickolaus: 'We need a better process'
Nickolaus in a short phone interview Wednesday said the GAB-approved process allows her to post results to the public and the media before she can count the totals, but said it also slowed her staff down.
“We felt that the process was very cumbersome,” she said. “We need to have a better process before May, and I’ll be contacting the GAB about that.”
Nickolaus then cut the interview short with Patch, saying she had customers at the desk that she needed to assist.
However, she told the Journal Sentinel that when her staff went to upload data delivered by local clerks in packs and cards into her computer program, it didn't work.
"We were shocked," she told the newspaper, adding that the program had been tested "many times."
As a result, her staff manually entered every vote total for every candidate in every race and every municipality by hand, and then proofed them against the voting machine tapes before posting them online, according to the Journal Sentinel report.
Reid Magney, spokesman for the GAB, said the agency hasn’t had an opportunity to talk with Nickolaus about the reported issues and all the facts are not known yet, so he refrained from comment.
Magney directed Patch to documents from a December board meeting where it approved procedures for Waukesha County for chain of command and posting results.
Those procedures call for a copy of results sheets to be posted in the county building outside the clerk's office as soon as possible to allow the public at the courthouse to view them. Then the results are to be entered into the election software by two county staffers.
Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said Tuesday night's problems are just another example of incompetence in Nickolaus' office.
"All residents of Waukesha should be concerned about whether and how their votes are counted given the gross incompetence already on display there," he said in an email to Patch. "It keeps happening and happening and all that are offered are excuses."
Plenty of problems in Brookfield, elsewhere
The problems with results being posted online by the county caused headaches in Brookfield, where the Elmbrook School District was unable to report who had won its two contested School Board races.
The Village of Elm Grove and Town of Brookfield notified the school district of its local results for the School Board races but the City of Brookfield did not, choosing to follow the county's plan to be the reporting agency.
But since most of the district is in the city, the school district's election clerk told Patch at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday she could not say who had won the races, without the city information. Pat Felde, who works in the school district's business office, said she was relying on the county's website, which still showed zeros in the Elmbrook School Board columns.
Shortly before midnight, a Patch writer had hand-counted the results, which Patch then used to report the board incumbents had won with comfortable margins. At about 2 a.m. the county posted results for most local races. The county's results were largely the same as Patch's hand count.
Prosser race prompts changes
The election night results reporting change came after Nickolaus was criticized for not posting results online in last spring's state Supreme Court race, in which the entire City of Brookfield votes were left out of the county's total results on election night. The error flipped the winner in the razor-thin election from Kloppenburg, who had declared victory, to Prosser.
Had Nickolaus posted results online, someone would have caught the zeros for the City of Brookfield in the countywide total, some critics said.
County Clerk Candidates React
Jessie Read, who is running as a Democrat against Nickolaus in the November election for county clerk, said Nickolaus is “seemingly showing incompetence.”
“Why we have allowed this to happen time and time and time again is beyond me,” Read said.
Town of Mukwonago Clerk/Treasurer Kathy Karalewitz, who is running against Nickolaus on the Republican ticket, said the town did not have any issues with candidates receiving delayed results. However, she felt the process Tuesday night was inefficient and that the votes needed to be reported electronically.
“We are going backward,” Karalewitz said. “We really need to look at doing modem results and getting more into electronic results versus paper. I really don’t think that that process was a good process only because to get results people had to add the numbers together. It would have made more sense, if you were going to use paper, to submit spreadsheets.”
Professionalism of Volunteer Questioned
Karalewitz questioned the professionalism of the county clerk’s office. She described an incident in which she said a staff member “came storming after me and questioned why I was so late.”
Karalewitz said she doesn’t know the woman's name but she told the woman they were late getting to the Waukesha County Courthouse because the election workers were tabulating the absentee ballots before Karalewitz drove all the election tapes from the Town of Mukwonago to Waukesha.
“She responded and said, ‘You are running against her,’” Karalewitz said.
Karalewitz said the verbal attack was uncalled for and unprofessional.
“When clerks bring in their election materials, they do not need to be verbally yelled at by a staff member of the county clerk’s office,” Karalewitz said.
Nickolaus said the woman in question was not a staff member but was a volunteer for the evening. The volunteer walked out of the office after the incident with Karalewitz, Nickolaus said.
Karalewitz did not talk to Nickolaus about the incident, according to Nickolaus. Nickolaus was made aware about the incident from another media outlet.
“I didn’t know it had even happened,” she said.
Nickolaus said the Town of Mukwonago ballots were the last to arrive at the county when they arrived at around 12:15 a.m.
“There were plenty of people heard her state that she had other priorities and that this was not a priority to get the results here,” Nickolaus said. “We had plenty of work to do yet. I had just wanted to know if there were any issues to be dealing with. She didn’t come back and talk to me.”
Brookfield clerk prefers modem system
Karalewitz' desire to move to a modem reporting system was echoed by Brookfield City Clerk Kelly Michaels. Michaels, who began working for Brookfield in October succeeding longtime clerk Kristine Schmidt, said her two former employers — the cities of Wausau and Stoughton — used election machine equipment whose results could be modemed to the county.
"I'm disappointed because we got this email that said if we bring these discs in (to the county) we’d get the information through the county's website 30 to 40 minutes later," Michaels said.
She said in Wausau and Stoughton, modemed results did appear on those county's websites as quick as 15 minutes later.
However, the election machines that most Waukesha County municipalities purchased years ago do not allow for modem transmission — at least not until the Federal Elections Commission issues a certification allowing it, Michaels said.
Most communities, such as Brookfield, have two machines — the Insight which most voters are familar with and feed their paper ballots into — and the Edge, which is a touch-screen machine that few voters use. Another device combines the two machines results — and that device is what has not been certified for use by modem, she said.