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Investigation Over: Wisconsin County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus Cleared of Wrongdoing (Brad Friedman Hardest Hit)

John on September 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Remember Kathy Nickolaus? She’s the Waukesha County clerk who made an error reporting votes during the Prosser-Kloppenburg election for State Supreme Court. Initially the election appeared to be a narrow win for Kloppenburg (who ran against Gov. Walker). However, it turned out 7,000 votes had been misreported because of a computer error, giving Prosser (a pro-Walker judge) a clear win.

Enraged liberals unleashed speculation that Nickolaus’ actions were suspicious and possibly criminal. The Brad Blog made a major push on this both on his blog and on radio. Crooks and Liars Karoli and diarists at Daily Kos went after Nickolaus as well. Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin sent a letter to Eric Holder demanding an investigation.

In July, the Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board hired attorney Timothy Verhoff to get to the bottom of the matter. Verhoff’s report was released yesterday and here’s the summary of its findings from the GAO website:

The Government Accountability Board today released the independent investigation report by former Dane County prosecutor Timothy Verhoff, as well as a G.A.B. staff report and related documents.  These reports detail how Clerk Nickolaus’ actions on Election Night and in the following days led to confusion and misinformation about the closeness of the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, and about the reason that official results varied so significantly from the initial unofficial results.

Despite allegations that Clerk Nickolaus somehow manipulated votes from the city of Brookfield to sway the election for Justice David Prosser, Attorney Verhoff’s report determined that this could not have happened because the City of Brookfield independently reported the correct vote totals to multiple news outlets and they were published by the online news website Brookfield Patch on Election Night. 

The report notes that, while Clerk Nickolaus was unable to give a definite explanation as to how the error occurred, the most likely explanation for her misreporting of unofficial results is that she uploaded a blank template into a reporting database, rather than a template that included actual vote totals, for the City of Brookfield.  Clerk Nickolaus gave both the blank and completed templates the same file name and saved them in the same file location on the computer.

The report does criticize Nickolaus for the error and for the press conference which it says only added to the confusion. However, the bottom line is that the canvass was handled properly and the vote total showing Prosser won was accurate. This boils down to a mistake, not a conspiracy or an attempt to tamper with the election. Most of us knew that already, but now it’s official.

Perhaps outlets like Politico and the Atlantic can stop calling Nickolaus “Wisconsin’s Katherine Harris” now?

Update: Turns out Brad Friedman is mentioned in the full report, though not by name [actually, he's mentioned by name in the appendix, see update below]:

Aside from a possible connection between Mr. Prosser and Governor Walker, allegations of a large-scale conspiracy among officials to engage in election fraud were not raised in the complaint against Ms. Nickolaus to the G.A.B. However, such allegations surfaced from certain individuals interviewed during this investigation. Similar allegations circulated on the internet, particularly among bloggers.

I asked Brad directly if this was him and his answer was “Maybe.” I’ll take that as a yes until he specifically denies being one of the conspiracy theorists alluded to in the report. In any case, the investigation specifically knocks down these claims:

Public trust in the election process is essential. The poor condition of ballot bags and potential breaks in the chain of custody of ballot bags can foster an environment where members of the public begin to doubt the integrity of an election and begin to engage in conspiracy theories. But given the number of individuals in addition to Ms. Nickolaus who would have to be involved in a conspiracy to engage in the type of fraudulent election practices described above, it appears highly unlikely to have occurred. The likelihood of a conspiracy also is negated when one looks at the results of the election.

So much for Brad’s conspiracy theories. The rest of the report is not much help to him either. There is about a page of the conclusion chastising Kathy Nickolaus for not raising a bigger alarm after she realized the error, but the report concludes:

Despite these issues, it does not appear there was any intentional misconduct on the part of Kathy Nickolaus, nor were there significant problems with the manner in which the official canvass was conducted. As previously indicated, the official canvass process, the G.A.B. review, and the statewide recount confirmed the official vote totals are correct, and that the unofficial vote totals published on election night were in error.

Another Fitzmas that didn’t come.

Update 2: Hey, Brad Friedman is mentioned by name in the Appendix which is a separate pdf file for some reason. The investigators reviewed two of his posts:

Brad Friedman, City of Brookfield Ballot Bags Found “Wide Open” ln Waukesha
County, Wisconsin
, The BRAD BLOG, May 12,2011.

Brad Friedman, TRUTHOUT: More Egregious Election lrregularities Emerge
From Supreme Court Recount
, Wisconsin Wave, ltlay 22,2011.

Just a sample of Brad’s work from the second post above:

As reported here in great detail here over the past month, there were definitely violations and breaks in the chain of custody of thousands of ballots. If they had been gamed, in order to avoid getting caught in this very close, very high-stakes election — for a 10-year term on the state Supreme Court during one of the most tumultuous periods in state history — it’s as simple as swapping in ballots to match the totals on the gamed poll tapes. (Gaming those tapes can be as simple as seen in this clip from HBO’s Emmy-nominated documentary Hacking Democracy.) If one happened to have blank ballots and knew those blank ballots would not be reconciled, even during the “recount” (since they do not do so in WI), and one had possession of the ballots for a full three weeks prior to the “recount” — as, say, Kathy Nickolaus or any other election insider in the state of Wisconsin had — it would be worth both the effort and the risk to avoid detection if one had gamed the front end, as discovery of the dirty deed during the “recount” would otherwise result in some very hard time.

Now you understand that when the report says “allegations of a large-scale conspiracy…circulated on the internet, particularly among bloggers” they were in fact talking about Brad Friedman. And when the report concludes:

The poor condition of ballot bags and potential breaks in the chain of custody of ballot bags can foster an environment where members of the public begin to doubt the integrity of an election and begin to engage in conspiracy theories. But given the number of individuals in addition to Ms. Nickolaus who would have to be involved in a conspiracy to engage in the type of fraudulent election practices described above, it appears highly unlikely to have occurred.

The author was no-so-subtly telling Brad Friedman he’s spouting nonsense.

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