Updated April 6, 2:30 p.m. ET
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus has announced that she is stepping aside from her office’s main duty of election administration, in the wake of continued problems with vote counts that have become a center of controversy in this stronghold for Wisconsin Republicans.
This past Tuesday, Waukesha’s full vote count was delayed into Wednesday — actually boosting Mitt Romney’s final lead from five points up to seven points, when all was completed — after the county’s computer system didn’t work. Instead of an orderly online posting of results, employees had to have the paper slips from voting machines hand-delivered from throughout the county, and then post them all over the walls of a county meeting room.
As a result, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, County Executive Dan Vrakas demanded that Nickolaus either resign her office, or hand off election duties to staff for the upcoming recall election against Gov. Scott Walker — in which the result is expected to be close, with no allowable room for error by local officials.
Nickolaus is thus handing off the election duties to her deputy, Kelly Yaeger, and will instead handle other areas of her office, such as issuing marriage licenses.
When asked for comment, the state Democratic Party gave TPM this comment from chairman Mike Tate: “Even her fellow Waukesha Republicans have little to no faith in Kathy Nickolaus’ ability to handle her election duties in a competent and timely manner. It is reassuring to know that the June 5th recall elections, arguably some of the most important in Wisconsin history, will be in more capable hands.”
Nickolaus first came to prominence in April 2011, in the hotly contested election for the state Supreme Court, when two days after the election she announced the discovery of un-tabulated votes from the city of Brookfield — giving conservative Justice David Prosser a net gain of over 7,000 votes, and a very narrow victory — saying that her own error had resulted in them not being properly imported and saved into the county’s database.
Later in the year, a probe by the state election officials found probable cause to believe that Nickolaus had violated the laws and procedures for administering the count, which require a fully detailed online posting of the count on election night — but that her actions were not willful, criminal misconduct.
Notably, the report concluded that Nickolaus could not have possibly manipulated vote totals, as some people in the state came to believe — because the City of Brookfield, the center of the vote-counting controversy, had in fact independently reported its correct vote totals to local media sources on election night.
At the same time, Nickolaus was sharply criticized in the report for having damaged the public’s confidence in the election system:
As a result of the investigation, the G.A.B. has issued an order requiring Clerk Nickolaus to conform her conduct to law and take certain steps to ensure accountability and transparency in her Election Night reporting practices prior to the February 2012 spring primary. Those steps include releasing detailed results on Election Night, instead of only county-wide figures. Had Clerk Nickolaus reported all results separately on Election Night, her failure to include numbers from the City of Brookfield would have been apparent immediately, rather than the next morning when she discovered the problem.