Monday, April 11, 2011

How Do You Just "Find" 14,000 Votes?

In America, there is no right more precious to the people than the right to vote.  The vote is how "we the people" hold our government accountable to us.  If we like a certain idea, we vote for it.  If we dislike a certain candidate, we vote against them.  No matter what you believe in, no matter what your cause or issue, this country prides itself on the fact that for over 200 years we have successfully governed ourselves not by violence but by voting.  Without the vote, the people literally have no voice in the laws that affect their daily lives.  Every citizen deserves the right to vote, and every vote counts.  That being said, nothing makes the Founding Fathers turn over in their graves quicker than when somebody's vote is not counted.

This past week, the State of Wisconsin (yes that state with all the union issues) held an election to decide one of its Supreme Court Justices.  [*yes, some states elect their judges but that's a whole other blog topic*] Although neither candidate officially belongs to a political party, the Democratic-backed candidate is JoAnne Kloppenburg and the GOP-backed candidate is incumbent Justice David Prosser.  Now what makes this story so interesting is that after all the recent drama between Wisconsin's newly elected Republican Governor, Scott Walker, and the public worker's unions, Wisconsin voters have had a change of heart.  19 counties that went for Walker in the infamous November 2010 election this time flipped and went for the Democratic-backed candidate, JoAnne Kloppenburg.  And after all was said and done, approximately 1.5 million Wisconsins voted and the Democratic-backed Kloppenburg won the election by a narrow 200 votes...

...or so we thought.

Enter deus ex machina: Kathy Nickolaus.

Kathy Nickolaus, the Waukesha County Clerk, announced the following day that she "found" an extra 14,315 votes that apparently had not been counted for the city of Brookfield, which accounts for about 11 percent of her county’s voters.  Most of these newly-announced votes went for the conservative candidate, putting David Prosser ahead by about 7,500 votes.  When asked to explain herself, Kathy Nickolaus cited to "human error" in failing to save the spreadsheet for the Brookfield votes onto her personal computer where the rest of the County's votes were kept.

Where the plot thickens is that Kathy Nickolaus is a former staffer for the Assembly Republican Caucus in Wisconsin.  So, naturally, when 14,000 newly discovered votes show up after an election that just so happen to put the Republican-backed candidate ahead of the Democratic-candidate who had already won, it does have a little bit of a problem passing the smell test.  To make matters worse, apparently Nickolaus had been warned in January of this year by the County Board about tightening up her election procedures.  Ironically, she dismissed the County Board's recommendations, saying "this isn't that big of a deal."  3 months later she somehow manages to mess up one of the biggest elections in Wisconsin history.  Nevertheless, election Nostradamus extraordinaire, Nate Silver, the man who singlehandedly predicted the 2008 election down to the county using regression analysis, confirmed that the newly reported numbers are a more accurate representation of Waukesha County than the original numbers that were reported.

In other words, at worst we have a Republican conspiracy to steal an election and at best Kathy Nickolaus is extremely incompetent at her job.

Which brings me back to my original point: the right to vote is the most precious right that we have as Americans.  It should be respected and safeguarded at all costs - not carried around negligently by some sloppy manager who has openly indicated in the most cavalier manner imaginable that she couldn't care less about protecting the votes of others.  How does this woman still have a job???  If any one of us had done something similar to this in our day jobs, then even if we weren't fired we would probably hand in our own resignations voluntarily.

But this is a bigger problem than the misfeasance of Kathy Nickolaus the individual.  Every time we have to have a public "recount" of an election, it begs the question of why every citizen's vote was not properly counted the first time.  And once we have to ask ourselves that question, our confidence in the political process has already been eroded.

What do you make of this situation?
Do you believe that your vote counts?
Do situations like this make you change your mind about whether your vote counts?
What can we do to avoid situations like this in the future?

Related Question:
Wisconsin voters evidenced a noticeable sea change from Republican to Democrat - is this a sign that the public sees the newly elected Republicans as overreaching?
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