Ah, it's been a while since we've had e-voting controversies, but it looks like a big one may be coming out of Wisconsin. As you may have heard, there's been a bit of a political dogfight going on in Wisconsin over the last few months, involving some questions about the power of the governor and the rights of government employees to collectively bargain. Given that I actually have a background in labor relations (what? yes, really), I've found the whole thing fascinating, but given my general distaste for politics that become purely partisan, I've generally found the whole thing and actions on all sides to be pretty ridiculous. Anyway, that fight brought extra attention on an election fight for a Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice position between incumbent David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg.
The original results showed a very slight victory for Kloppenburg
. Now, I generally avoid mentioning political parties of politicians entirely, because I find that it leads to partisan debates, which are effectively religious debates, rather than debates on the actual issues. But, here, the parties become a bit more important. Because of the highly partisan battle in Wisconsin involving a Republican Governor and Democratic elected officials, many people viewed this election as something of a proxy, with Prosser representing the "Republican" viewpoint and Kloppenburg being the hope of the "Democrats." That's a bit of a simplification, but to get to the point we're talking about here, it's enough.
With the voting results being incredibly close -- the original count had Kloppenburg with a 204 vote margin of victory, out of over 1.4 million votes cast -- it's no surprise that a "recount" has been underway, with small numbers of votes turning up here or there. However, what's turning some heads is the fact that the County Clerk in Waukesha County, Kathy Nickolaus, suddenly found 14,315 votes
, with the vast majority (by a margin of 7,582) that didn't make the initial count. She claims that they weren't counted because she "failed to save the results" in the computer system. She also said that this kind of "human error" is "common in this process."
Assuming this is actually true, it seems like a pretty clear case that Nickolaus should not be in the job any more, as that's a pretty clear case of incompetence in a rather important job. Assuming it's not true... well... that's a whole different story. Of course, complicating matters is the fact that Nickolaus is apparently an active Republican and was at the center of a few former controversies, including one about election data
and how Nickolaus would collect election results -- with people raising concerns months ago about "the integrity of the system." It seems that she decided "to take the election data collection and storage system off the county's computer network - and keep it on stand-alone personal computers accessible only in her office." Now, her argument, which is not entirely unreasonable, is that it's better to keep such data off the network, but given the specific concerns raised, the story is raising eyebrows.
Obviously, for folks who are die-hard supporters of either party, they can spin the story in either direction. But, if we just take a step back, and look at it from the standpoint of wanting to believe in the concepts of basic democracy, shouldn't we all be pretty concerned that any
voting system, no matter how it's set up or maintained, could lead to this sort of situation where 14,000 potentially crucial votes could go completely missing without notice... and then magically turn up just as they're needed?
Even if everything is legit, and there's no compelling reason not to assume that's the case at this point, it certainly hurts the basic integrity of the election system. And that's pretty important if you want people to actually believe in the basic principles of democracy. And, honestly, why do we let any single person, especially one with a clear party affiliation, control such data? At the very least, it should be in the hands of either neutral parties, or multiple people who can see each other's actions.