WASHINGTON — In a dramatic turn of events on Thursday, the Waukesha County clerk announced that the vote total announced for Tuesday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court race had been mistaken — and that the corrected numbers changed the outcome of the entire election.
There were 3,456 missing votes for Democratic-backed challenger Kathleen Kloppenburg and 11,059 for incumbent GOP-backed Justice David Prosser. Kloppenburg has previously been beating Prosser by just 200 votes of the roughly 1.5 million cast statewide. The new total puts Prosser on a significant path to victory, about 7,500 votes ahead of Kloppenburg.
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced the news in a press conference at 5:30 p.m. local time, sounding nervous and, at times, on the verge of tears. She insisted that there was no foul play in the results and blamed the mess on her own “human error.”
Nickolaus cited several reasons for the discrepancies between Tuesday night’s unofficial vote totals and the new numbers. In the city of New Berlin, the total for one ward was recorded as 37 votes for Prosser, but it was actually 237, she said. In the town of Lisbon, a “typing error” resulted in both candidates losing votes. The most significant error, however, occurred in the city of Brookfield.
“The spreadsheet from Brookfield was imported into a database that was provided by the Government Accountability Board, but it inadvertently was not saved,” Nickolaus said. “As a result, when I ran the report to show the aggregate numbers that were collected from all the municipalities, I assumed that the city of Brookfield was included. It was not. The city of Brookfield cast 14,315 votes on April 5 — 10,859 votes went for Justice David Prosser, 3,456 went for JoAnne Kloppenburg.”
“It is important to stress that this is not a case of extra votes or extra ballots being found,” she added. “This is human error, which I apologize for — which is common in this process.” The existence of the missing votes was first reported at National Review Online by Christian Schneider, a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.
Questions were immediately raised about the new announcement. As Schneider wrote, prior to the election, Nickolaus “was heavily criticized for her decision to keep the county results on anantiquated personal computer, rather than upgrade to a new data system being utilized statewide.”
Added Schneider: “Nickolaus cited security concerns for keeping the data herself — yet when she reported the data, it did not include the City of Brookfield, whose residents cast nearly 14,000 votes.
“The Waukesha County Board also heavily criticized the clerk after she brushed aside their recommendations for improving election security. At one point during a hearing in January, board chairman Jim Dwyer grew exasperated with Nickolaus and said, “There really is nothing funny about this, Kathy. Don’t sit there and grin when I’m explaining what this is about.”
“Wisconsin deserves elections that are fair, clean and transparent,” said Scot Ross, the executive director of the progressive advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. “There is a history of secrecy and partisanship surrounding the Waukesha County Clerk and there remain unanswered questions.”
Neither the campaigns nor the Democratic and Republican parties in the state were immediately available for comment. An official recount may be sought as early as next week.