16 October 2014

The Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism (CICJ) which publishes the freepress.org made a comprehensive public records request on July 3, 2012 to virtually every county and municipal election official in Wisconsin. The Free Press wanted to look at the ballots from the June 5, 2012 recall election of Governor Scott Walker. As outlined in a previous Free Press article, our staff was concerned with the election results deviating so far from the exit polls that predicted an evenly divided vote – or too close to call. Walker won with a 7% discrepancy from the polls.

With Wisconsin’s history as a progressive and honest state, the CICJ did not anticipate any problems with our public record request. Imagine our shock when Kathy Nickolaus, the Waukesha County Clerk, sent us an 8-page letter containing directives that made it practically impossible for us to look at the Wisconsin ballots, which are public records under that state’s laws.

Nickolaus informed us that our request was “overly burdensome.” This is the same excuse she offered the Wisconsin WAVE, a group also attempting to count the recall election votes. Nickolaus lectured us like a disapproving school marm, “I don’t believe the public records law should be utilized for the purpose of allowing citizens to view every ballot or conduct hand recount of an election, especially one in which there was such a large quantity of votes cast.”

Really?

In Nickolaus’ perspective, if it is a minor election with a low voter turnout, perhaps people should be allowed to inspect public records. But in a major election with national importance like the Walker recall, her views, and more importantly, her actions are geared toward making sure citizens are kept from counting ballots.

Nickolaus informed us of “my no-touch requirement.” While states like Ohio allowed citizens to count ballots in the presence of election workers following the notorious 2004 presidential election, Nickolaus had another plan. She would copy all 213,332 ballots at 25 cents a page, charging us more than $53,000. Moreover, Nickolaus wrote, “you will be required to pre-pay the cost of reproduction of records….” Ever the dictator, Nickolaus warned us, “I note that you are in Ohio. Please do not travel to Wisconsin and show up at my office with a team of inspectors that consists of more than four people.”

Indeed, if an inspection team of more than four showed up, they would likely find out that Walker’s numbers were rigged. This is what happened in Florida following the 2004 election when a media consortium hand-counted all the ballots in the state and determined that Gore had won.

Also, if our gang of four showed up in in wonderful Waukesha County, we would only be allowed to count ballots for two hours each day, thus adding dramatically to our expenses.

Under Wisconsin’s law, Nickolaus is required to maintain any public records requested for 60 days. In her letter she asserted that she would destroy them within 30 days if we would not agree to her conditions for “inspection or copying of these election materials.” Clearly, Nickolaus and Walker have something to hide.

But still, maybe she wasn’t the worst. There was another rural Wisconsin county that called up and said we couldn’t get the data off of a voting machine DRE cartridge because they had signed a contract to send it back to the Orwellian Command Central, reportedly a small 2 ½ person company run out of a strip mall in Minnesota. The clerk explained that while we had a legal right to get data from the DRE cartridge, we would have to pay $4000, which is the penalty they agreed to, if they didn’t return the cartridge to Command Central within 15 days of the election.

In a Talktainmentradio.com radio interview, aired on WCRS FM in Columbus, Ohio, two Wisconsin election integrity activists discussed what’s wrong with Wisconsin. Dennis Kern pointed out that the recall election was “called too early, with voters still in line. At 9 p.m. ABC was the first to call it for Walker, while TV reporters were interviewing people still in line to vote in Milwaukee.”

Kern, from Crawford, Wisconsin, pointed out that Obama won the area in 2008, Democratic gubernatorial candidate carried it in 2010 and suddenly the right-wing Republican Walker won in 2012 by 2000 votes. When Kern made a similar public records request to his county clerk to download the data from the DRE cartridges, he was told that they were “already sent back to Command Central.”

Kern described the Command Central logo: “Their logo is a triangle with an eye in the middle.”

A Crawford County election official told Kern that it would cost $12,400 to have the data read from the cartridges.

In Kern’s analysis, his encounter in Crawford County “demonstrates how much power Command Central has over our voting system, which they pre-program in secret. Nobody knows what programming is on those cards.” Kern’s conclusion is simple, “How can people allow their vote to be counted in secret under no purview of any agency. How can we call this a democracy? There’s no oversight.” John Washburn, a well-known public records advocate, has three cases pending against election officials in Wisconsin. In Green Bay, he’s challenging the assertion that the electronic election material is protected as “trade secrets.” Green Bay election officials argue that even the names and vote counts on the DRE cartridges are corporate secrets. In Fox Point, he’s challenging the $450 cost to copy election data onto a CD. In the Village of Butler, he’s legally challenging the municipality’s contention that they have no technology to copy the public records.

Washburn believes that there’s no way to verify electronic voting. “It can always be explained away as an inexplicable glitch.” There’s no evidence to convince anyone of election tampering. “All mistakes whether or not they’re malice, look the same,” said Washburn.

So that’s what’s wrong with Wisconsin. It has been corrupted by the lure of non-transparent, unverifiable, faith-based voting and their election officials have decided to be keepers of the secrets because they don’t believe that citizens in a democracy have a right to touch and see and count their own votes.