He’s only about a year and a half late, but Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas says he’s ready to “make changes to restore the people’s faith and confidence in the election reporting in Waukesha County.” At least, that’s what he told Larry Sandler of the Journal Sentinel after Tuesday’s revelation that Kathy Nickolaus made changes to Waukesha County software before the April election, is refusing to disclose what those changes were, and that whatever she did is going to cost Waukesha County taxpayers $256,300 to fix.
From the Journal Sentinel:
Sometime after final testing of Waukesha County’s election software – but before the April election – County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus mysteriously changed something in her office’s computer programming, according to a consulting firm’s report released Tuesday.
Only Nickolaus knows what she did. The consultants can’t figure it out, and she’s not talking.
But whatever she did, it caused a breakdown in reporting election results that will cost county taxpayers $256,300 to fix, the report says.
Vrakas had ordered this independent report after the April 3, 2012 election snafu when Nickolaus didn’t post results online, as promised, and reporters had to tabulate the results themselves from paper tapes stuck to the walls. Details were revealed in the report:
SysLogic found Nickolaus had ordered an upgrade of election software, and after that upgrade, she was the only one trained to program the election computers.
When the reporting system failed, Nickolaus had said she was “shocked,” because it had been tested repeatedly.
But, the report says, Nickolaus made a programming change between the end of testing and election night.
“It is unclear what changed in the programming of the (election) software, but something was changed in the ballot program,” the report says. “The county clerk acknowledged that a change took place, but did not specify what was changed.”
But wait, there’s more:
Another issue is that many voting machines do not have a federally approved modem to transmit results electronically to the clerk’s office, the report says. That means municipal clerks must bring voting machines’ memory packs to county offices on election night, the report notes.
In 2008, Nickolaus proposed spending $600,000 in the 2009 budget to buy 100 new voting machines from Sequoia Voting Systems, but then withdrew that request, the report says. Cummings said the project died after the county purchasing office told Nickolaus she had to seek competitive proposals for a contract that size.
The result is that Waukesha County will now need to spend even more money to upgrade hardware so it’s in federal compliance before the 2014 gubernatorial election, since Nickolaus didn’t upgrade the system in 2009 when she had the chance.
Nickolaus has touted her 15 years of experience in computer programming. That included 13 years working for Assembly Republicans, where she was granted immunity and later cleared of ethics violations during the 2001 investigation into campaigning on state time.
By the way, Kathy Nickolaus’ term is not up until December 31, 2012. She has refused to step down before then, despite numerous calls for her resignation in the form of protests.
And though she had said she would cede her election night duties to her deputy clerk, Kelly Yaeger, on May 8 2012, by many accounts, she did not appear to do so (report here). And she seemed very much in charge on June 5, 2012, too.
Will she “not be in charge” of upcoming elections, as well?
For his part, Dan Vrakas said on Tuesday that he is disappointed by Kathy Nickolaus’ behavior and that he’s “sorry that it has come to this point.”
Welcome to the club, Mr. Vrakas.