As best as I can recollect, this country founded itself on three essential matters: no taxation without representation (which credo is abrogated daily for the half-million residents of Washington, D.C., said country’s very capital, but that’s another story); self-rule by way of representational government (democracy, not monarchy); and freedom of (or from) religion. The only thing that truly keeps us as a nation bound together is a piece of parchment that begins “We the People.” Our common denominator is neither racial nor religious, unlike so many cultures of the world. Even what literally grounds us could hardly be more incongruous; from the Olympic Mountains, rain forests, and glaciers of Washington to the swampy gators of the Florida Everglades, or the windswept hush of Kansas to the roar of the New Jersey Turnpike, our basic geography alone divides us. Regional distinctions abound; for the reality of a back-to-the-land Vermonter might as well be its own subject of anthropology when compared next to a Sunbelt computer programmer in Tucson, a shrimper’s day to day humid toil in the Gulf of Mexico to a Montana rancher baling hay in the first snowstorm before Labor Day. Our dialects and our diets wildly diverge; we are what we speak and eat where we’re from, and Southern ain’t New England any more than a Midwest casserole hotdish makes a lick of sense to a Tex-Mex plate of frijoles con carne asada. No, what keeps us together is the Constitution, that we are a nation of laws. And we vote. Call us “e plebiscite unum.”
What we traded in place of a national religion is a kind of theology of civics – not divine law, but community law. The mere act of casting a ballot is a form of prayer: we are silently petitioning a higher power to heed our voice. And it is nothing short of basic faith that this paper prayer will count – which is to say be counted. That’s the intrinsic each Holy Tuesday when we make our civic pilgrimage to our secular temples.
When someone tempers with this at once deeply personal yet profoundly public ritual, it hurts like hell. We feel outraged, wronged. We despair and lose our faith. When our apostles of the political process transmogrify into apostasies, and that votive of the ballot box becomes corrosive, it’s mighty tempting to turn cynical and contemptuous.
This is why I am indignant about what happened today in Waukesha County, Wisconsin.
Here’s the backdrop: the clerk of the county, Kathy Nickolaus, suddenly discovered that over 14,000 votes in the City of Brookfield had not been officially counted in the total for Waukesha County. With them tallied, incumbent David Prosser – who had since Wednesday afternoon been behind challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg by 204 votes – now was ahead by 7,582. The cause of the discrepancy? Ms Nickolaus alleges to have forgotten to click “save” after uploading the data from Brookfield. See whole story here.
Now before we roll up our sleeves and rake some muck, there’s (at least) one quite relevant consideration to this revelation: Wisconsin law is such that if the margin of error between candidates is equal to or lesser than 0.5 percent, then the state picks up the cost of a recount – if one is requested. With an over 7500 vote differential, the percentage is just slightly over half, which means if Kloppenburg requests a recount, to which she is entitled, then it will cost her $5 per ward. With roughly 6600 wards throughout the state, this comes to some $33,000 – plus a new catchphrase of being Nickolaus-and-dimed.
So now let’s get sloppy!
Before her post as the Waukesha County Clerk, Nickolaus had been a data analyst and computer specialist staffer for the State Assembly Republican caucus for thirteen years, earning $54K annually. And what a caucus it was! After finding itself criminally investigated because staffers were doing campaign work on state time (a big ethical no-no that is politically illegal), some folks resigned while others were convicted. Remember the Scott Jensen shakedown in 2001? (If not, or you’d like a refresher, here’s far more than you’d ever want to know. Or just keep Jensen’s name in mind, as he’s about to come up again.) Same thing. Somehow – and for reasons no one will ever know, as she is silent about the subject – Nickolaus herself was granted immunity. La-di-da.
As Clerk, Nickolaus found herself audited and admonished for less than stellar security safeguards on the computer network – which is no longer even part of the county network, but rather her own personal computers. She herself essentially unilaterally controls the levers and calls the shots. Does a go-it-alone approach sound familiar? Sound suspicious? It’s worth recognizing that Waukesha County is one of the main Republican strangleholds in the entire state, if not the most dyed-in-the-red. Coincidence or conspiracy, you tell me.
Meanwhile, Prosser has hired some attorneys in anticipation of a recount. The chief lawyer is Jim Troupis, a board member of the MacIver Institute – a self-described “Free Market Force for Wisconsin,” in other words another newfangled Republican political action committee hive of apparatchiks hiding behind moneyed agenda (along with such groupthinks as Americans for Prosperity or Club for Growth). That’s kid glove stuff. Troupis was the lawyer for Scott Jensen and his caucus – all at taxpayer expense. (At an incredible rate of $120,000 a month, the total costs went over a million dollars. Again, all on the taxpayers’ dime. Lots of dimes actually.) Before such largesse, he was the lawyer for Jensen’s political mentor, none other than David Prosser, back when Prosser was in the State Assembly. Troupis would then march gloriously onwards into ignominy by representing Justice Ziegler and her scandal. Not to be outdone, he went on to then later represent Mike Gableman – remember him, the guy who ousted then incumbent Justice Louis Butler thanks to one famous, shameless ad hominem attack ad?
So that’s Troupis’s resume in a nut shell. Oh, wait – except for this: he also just counseled Scott Fitzgerald last month about how to lure the then still AWOL in IL Democratic state Senators, and he represented the guy in the north woods who filed against Sen. Jim Holperin-D on the grounds of being in contempt. Who footed that legal bill? The Club for Growth, that shadowy organization that both advised Walker’s campaign and put out commercials in support of his “budget repair” bill.
Another lawyer hired by Prosser is the very man who by his own account “played a central role in the 2000 Florida recount,” Mr Benjamin Ginsberg, national counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign. But don’t think he’s been in the limelight since then. Far from it – he was a central figure on behalf of the Swift Boat veterans scandal in 2004. Alas, four years later a new Republican aspiring for ascendancy, Ginsberg served as the national counsel for Mitch Romney’s bid for the president. Presently he bides his time between directing redistricting efforts and counseling the Republican Governors Association. Here’s more of his backdrop, if you like.
Notice a pattern? How in the world (this or another) can Prosser possibly claim any pretence whatsoever to being impartial? Of course he’s a “complement” to the Walker agenda: they’re symbiotic bedfellows. Now does anyone doubt that a vote for Prosser is a vote for Walker?
Before you run away to another state screaming mad as hell, here’s something we can try to do about this: send an email to email@example.com (thank you Maggie for the link!). It’s to the Office of the Inspector General (Lynne McFarland), part of the Federal Election Commission.
Here’s a generic example I encourage you to rephrase every so subtly so as not to sound redundant or impersonal:
Dear Inspector General McFarland,
I urge you to investigate and seize the Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolous’ personal computer on which she has stored and is in sole possession of all of the voting data from the recent Supreme Court election, here in Wisconsin. During official canvassing of ward tallies on Wednesday and Thursday, Ms. Nickolous alleges to have discovered an extreme discrepancy in the tallies she first reported to the state on election night whereby over 14,000 votes cast in one of her county’s cities; she claims to have forgotten to save this data once it was uploaded to her personal computer – which is not part of the county network or accessible to anyone but her. This discovery now puts the incumbent David Prosser – who until Thursday afternoon had been behind the challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg by 204 votes – ahead by 7500 votes – and beyond a state-funded recall.
Ms Nickolous used to work for a State Assembly caucus that was part of a notorious scandal of illegal political activity in 2001.
Transparency in our elections is absolutely vital, and I implore you to look into this as soon as possible. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
Where You Live
It’s a worth a shot and sure beats feeling like shit. They will stop at nothing. As Frederick Douglas knew too well, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” And we will fight back at every turn.