Will Scandal-Plagued Election Clerk Supervise Walker Recall in Key County?

A protester holds up a sign to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.Gary Porter/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Zuma


Republican Kathy Nickolaus may be the only county clerk known by name across Wisconsin—and not for a good reason.

Last year, Nickolaus, the top election official in Waukesha County, a solidly Republican suburb outside of Milwaukee, blamed “human error” for the late discovery of more than 14,000 missing votes in a bruising state Supreme Court race. Those votes erased liberal favorite JoAnne Kloppenburg’s lead in the race, handed victory to conservative incumbent David Prosser, and later led to an expensive recount. This April, Nickolaus resorted to posting election results on strips of grocery-receipt-like paper after the county’s reporting system failed on election night.

After the April controversy, Nickolaus pledged to step down from handling the county’s election operations. But ahead of Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election on June 5, the most expensive election in state history, recent evidence suggests Nickolaus still has control over the county’s vote-counting. Observers and news reports from the recall’s May 8 primary say Nickolaus looked like her usual self on election night. The WTMJ news station reported that Nickolaus “appeared to be very much in charge of the count.” Says another observer, who asked to remain anonymous to speak openly: “On election night, Kathy Nickolaus was there, and she made it seem as if she was in control.”

Republican county executive Dan Vrakas, who said “the public… lost faith in our election process in Waukesha County” because of Nickolaus’ failures, has denied that Nickolaus remains in charge of election operations. But after Nickolaus’ involvement in the May 8 primary, Vrakas took to the press to say he was “very disappointed” that she showed up. “I’d prefer that she wasn’t here on election night but I can’t ban her from the building anymore than I can ban anyone else from the building,” Vrakas told the Waukesha Freeman. Vrakas said that a deputy of Nickolaus’s had taken control of the vote-counting process.

Waukesha County bleeds Republican. Every Republican presidential candidate since the 1980 election has won the county by 20 or more percentage points. Republican gubernatotrial candidates have won the county in every race since 1982. Waukesha has treated Scott Walker especially well: he claimed 71 percent of the vote there in the 2010 gubernatorial election. In the May 8 recall primary, the county delivered him (PDF) more votes—79,098—than any other county in the state.

Kelly Steele, a spokesman for the labor-backed We Are Wisconsin group, says it would be “criminal” to allow Nickolaus to have any role in the county’s June 5 election. “After Kathy Nickolaus earned her reputation as the most incompetent or corrupt election clerk in America, Waukesha County assured the world she would no longer administer elections,” Steele says. “All evidence from the May primary suggests she’s fully in charge and reporting out results to the world.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board has also demanded Nickolaus’ resignation. “How can the citizens of Waukesha have any confidence that something else won’t go wrong in the next election; something that will call into question the results?” the board asked in April. “They can’t as long as Nickolaus remains in office.” But although Nickolaus has said she won’t run for reelection, she remains in her job—and, if the May 8 primary is any indication, she’s still supervising elections.

Nickolaus, Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas, and Waukesha GOP director Cathy Waller did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.