[img_assist|nid=43305|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=89|height=100]I knew that something big was going to happen today politically because I decided today was the day I was going to catch up on all the things I've been ignoring -- changing the oil in my car, making beer, doing my income tax --- you know, having a life.  So of course, the Wisconsin soap opera took yet another quirky turn today as Waukesha county developed a vote leak, and votes started pouring out of the county all over Prosser. I found myself sitting at my computer while I reeked of used motor oil, trying to make sense of all of this.

It's tempting to launch into a conspiracy theory, because it's a situation ready made for that ---

  • Votes appear that apparently didn't exist on Tuesday.  Well, they didn't appear, they just finally got reported.
  • The person losing and finding the votes is a Republican county clerk in a Republican county.
  • Same clerk is a long-time Republican, and Republican donor -- and her ex-boss in the old days was the candidate who benefits from the found votes.
  • Same clerk was chastised publicly last year for a lack of security and auditing of the computers she was using for elections, claiming she needed to have them "secured" from the IT folks and network. In any case, it really sounds like she took the county computers and treated them as her own IT domain
  • The number of found votes for Prosser is just enough to push the election out of the "no charge to candidates" recall category. An odd circumstance.

There's more, but this is enough to make this qualify for yet another Republican "You Can't Make This Shit Up" award. Which seems to be becoming a daily event.

But let's take it as read that this isn't some sort of voter fraud, and that it was a mistake, as Kathy Nickolaus says.  No harm no foul, sort of.  These were not official election returns, they were just the numbers given out to the press.  Sure this is going to irritate a lot of people, and it's going to be damn depressing to Kloppenburg's supporters if it holds up as real.  But it does raise some issues.

  • Did Kathy Nickolaus do anything about the security and maintainability of the computers being used for voting? The kerfuffle over her using non-supported computers partly sounds like it is just one of those blowups that happens between central IT staff and employees who want to deal with the computers themselves - but in this case, we're talking about voting equipment, which really ought to be vetted by more than one individual, whether it is official vote reporting or not.
  • Somehow the only people who knew about this iniitially seemed to be the right-wing blogosphere - why would they know this well in advance of any of the rest of the press?
  • Apparently Waukesha county stopped reporting by precinct some time ago, only giving out a total for the whole county on election night because the county clerk felt they didn't have the staff to deal with all those numbers. If the county had reported all of the numbers, as most counties do on election night, the problem would have been transparent and immediately obvious.  0 votes for an entire city would have stood out like a sore thumb.  I don't see how the justification of not having enough staff to "enter the numbers" fits in well with the procedure described in the press conference today - if this is all data from spreadsheets that was imported into a database, then certainly spitting out the numbers from the database for all of the reporting precincts can't have been anything more than doing a report for that - or it would seem that way to me. It just sounds like there was a general lack of thought and precision.
  • It's not clear to me if there is a standardized GAB procedure for tallying the votes in a county -- I haven't been able to find any evidence for that on the GAB web site.  There are plenty of rules for canvassing, and doing the official reporting of the votes -- so I have to wonder if the somewhat cumbersome system discussed in today's press conference is typical for other counties, or if this is some sort of homebrewed solution for Waukesha - the methods that were being described don't really sound like they have much to do with the official vote reporting system, so I have to assume that this is some sort of election night only activity to come up with the unofficial votes before the canvas.

I have every faith that the system is going to work here, and that between the open records request filed by the Kloppenburg campaign and the almost certain recount (at least in Waukesha county) that the actual count there will be found.  Thank God Wisconsin has a paper trail for all votes. 

In any case -- there's not a lot we can do at the moment other than make certain that all the records are preserved and are available to be dragged out into the sunlight.  I'm sure every town and county clerk in the state is a little edgy tonight (not from doing anything wrong, but because this sort of thing makes people doubt the system and the people who work it). They can thank Kathy Nickolaus for that.  I'm pretty certain, though, that at some point we will actually know who won this race -- it's been a really bumpy few months, but in the long run I have faith that we will continue to be a state that cares about elections, and that we'll get to the bottom of it all.  But the waiting is excruciating.