Strange Twist in Wisconsin Battle
A battle for the heart and soul of American democracy is being waged in this country. But it might not be the battle you’re watching.
While most news outlets have focused on a possible federal government shutdown, an even more sinister attack on democracy is being waged in Wisconsin.
The battle may come down to a single and unusual race: the contest between incumbent state Supreme Court Justice, David Prosser, and his challenger, Assistant Attorney General Joanne Kloppenburg.
While judges are supposed to be nonpartisan, in reality, as we all learned the hard way in the presidential election of 2000, those who sit on the bench wield a great deal of political power.
In Wisconsin, the stakes couldn’t be higher, politically. Wisconsin’s activist Republican Gov. Scott Walker has already pushed through some radical -- and possibly illegal -- legislation that will surely be challenged in the courts in Wisconsin. The State Supreme Court will likely be asked to rule on that legislation and related issues.
And on Thursday, the Democrats candidate of choice for one of those judgeships, Koppenburg, was reported the victor with a slim margin of just over 200 votes. But late in the day, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus reported she had “forgotten” to report results from one city in her heavily Republican County.
And when she did “remember” to report the results, which she had kept at home on her personal computer despite having been told before the election not to do this, not only did the votes from that city put the Republican Prosser over the top, but the margin put the election itself just over the margin for which an automatic recount would kick in.
As the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live would have said, “How convenient.”
Nickolaus said she had entered the data into Microsoft Access but forgotten to hit save. As a longtime Access user myself, I can assure you it’s almost impossible not to save data in Access. As soon as you move from one record to the next (from one city to the next, from one total to the next, from one row to the next if in a spreadsheet view) whatever you typed in the current record is automatically saved.
This isn’t Word or Excel or some other program that won’t save until you tell it to. This is Access, which saves all the time, behind the scenes, as you work. The only thing that wouldn’t be saved if you shut down was the very last record you are on.
In addition, Nickolaus was hardly some computer novice. For seven years, she worked as a data analyst and computer specialist for the Assembly Republican Caucus (ARC), where she managed an effort to build a computer program to track and average the performance of Republicans in elections across the state by ward.
Guess who headed the ARC when Nickolaus performed this work? David Prosser, who was a Republican leader in the state legislature before being appointed to the bench in 1998.
In 2001, the Assembly Republican Caucus was charged with using taxpayer-funded resources to conduct campaign activities, a move that is wholly illegal. Nickolaus was granted immunity to testify about these issues.
Prosser himself admitted to leading these activities, but Prosser could not be prosecuted for these criminal activities because the statute of limitations had expired.
Prosser defended his actions by claiming that legislation and politics go hand in hand, and therefore it shouldn’t be illegal to conduct campaign activities with legislative funds.
So we’re being asked to believe that the woman who had recently served as president of the Republican Women of Waukesha County, who had a personal stake in seeing her former boss and a member of her party win, forgot to enter the very data that would have put her candidate over the top in an election where the very future of her party’s role in state government was at stake.
That’s a difficult lump to swallow.
Of course, there is another possibility. What if this hardcore Republican activist, with sophisticated knowledge of computers, who kept the sole election database at home in her personal computer, under her personal control at all times, withheld the results of one city until she knew how many votes were needed to put Prosser over the top?
Is that really a more ridiculous scenario than the one we’re being asked to believe?
Lisa Pease is a writer who has studied the recent history of voting irregularities, especially those involving computers.
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