By Brad Friedman on 7/20/2011, 1:46pm PT  

We were off the grid for much of last week, blissfully ignorant somewhere in the mountains of Arizona, as the first of Wisconsin's series of state Senate recall-related elections took place last Tuesday. Thanks to, quite literally, "fake Democrats" put up by the state Republican Party, the six elections held last Tuesday were forced to be Democratic primary elections, instead of Republican recall elections, as the state GOP hoped to game the system to buy more time before six of their state Senators will be forced to face the real recall elections.

Last week's, largely pointless elections cost the state nearly half a million bucks. Remember that fake "budget emergency" the GOP and Scott Walker claimed as their reason for the need to strip the right of citizens to collectively bargain with the state? Guess the state wasn't in such dire straits after all, since they could afford to blow money on elections meant only to buy Republicans time to stave off the unprecedented recall challenges.

The real recall elections to unseat six Republican state Senators are now scheduled for August, as all six of the real Democrats soundly defeated each of the Republicans' "fake Democrats" in last week's primaries. At least according to Wisconsin's unverified, computer-tabulated results. 5 of the 6 real Dems reportedly received over 60% of the vote against their fake opponents. One received 54%.

Yesterday, there were three more elections in the Badger State. One actual recall election against a Democratic state Senator, and two Republican primaries featuring real GOP candidates vying for the nomination to take on the other two Democratic state Senators facing recall elections scheduled for August.

The Dem facing the recall yesterday handily defeated his Republican challenger, but we'll defer to Daily Kos' David Nir for his smart summary of the computer-reported results...

• SD-30: The first general election of the recalls featured Dem state Sen. Dave Hansen vs. Republican Dave Vanderleest. It was an utter blowout, as expected, with Hansen crushing Vanderleest by a score of 66-34. This takes one defensive hold off the table, meaning that only two more Democrats face recalls. I should also mention that Daily Kos's polling partner, Public Policy Polling, nailed this race — something that's not easy to do in such a lopsided affair — pegging the contest at 62-34 Hansen over the weekend.

SD-12: Kim Simac won the Republican primary over Robert Lussow by a 59-41 spread. Simac is a hard-core movement conservative who writes Tea Party-themed children's books. Lussow didn't have a lot to recommend him either, but most Democrats seem to be pleased that Simac was the victor, given her profile. She'll face state Sen. Jim Holperin, the most vulnerable of the three Democrats up for recall, on Aug. 16.

SD-22: Jonathan Steitz beat Fred Ekornaas for the right to take on Dem state Sen. Bob Wirch by a 66-34 margin. It's hard to say which candidate is "better" for us, as both have their flaws, though some have pointed out that Steitz lives a mile from the Illinois border and works at a Chicago law firm, thus raising questions about his Badger State bonafides. The Steitz-vs.-Wirch contest will also take place on Aug. 16.

If the state Dems are able to pick up just three of the Republican seats, out of the six in contention next month --- without losing either of the two remaining recall elections that the Dems still face --- they'll take the majority back from the Republicans to effectively neuter the hard Right Republican Gov. Scott Walker agenda until he too is likely to be up for his own recall election next year.

In Wisconsin, however, as in all of our states at this point, the wild cards are always the electronic voting systems and access to them. To that end, there are a few more recently-related items of note to make sure you have on your radar. At least two of them involve "our old friend" and transparent democracy's enemy, Kathy Nickolaus, the now-infamous Republican County Clerk of Waukesha County...

• As readers of The BRAD BLOG will recall, during the post-election "recount" of last April's WI Supreme Court Election debacle, many plastic bags full of ballots around the state, but particularly in Nickolaus' very Republican Waukesha County, turned up at the count with huge gaps at the top or completely "wide open" or ripped and duct-taped, such that ballots could have been easily removed or replaced during the many weeks they were in the County Clerk's possession between Election Day and the "recount."

But now, Kathy's got a brand new bag. The new ballot bags, she says, according to Laurel Walker at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "are made of tougher plastic and are comparable to bags used by banks, with an adhesive tape closing that would reveal signs of tampering."

Nickolaus demonstrated the new bags at a recent meeting of the state's County Clerks and says, "The majority of us who use plastic bags are looking to use these in the future."

We've yet to see them, so can't comment on whether or not they offer improved security over the bags currently used which are not unlike cheap plastic shopping bags, with a supposedly "tamper-evident" plastic zip-line cord that gets cinched around the top.

The state's top election agency, the Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.) hasn't seen them yet either, but they are unlikely to give a damn what county officials use, even though it's their job to oversee state elections.

As the Journal Sentinel reported:

Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections in the state, said Tuesday that county clerks are free to buy whatever election supplies they need. However, he said the items must conform to security standards set by the board and its Election Administration Council, which advises local clerks on, among other things, which ballot containers to buy.

Nickolaus said the bags meet state security requirements.

Well, then. If Nickolaus says so, that's probably good enough for the G.A.B., as the paper noted "Magney said the council has not met recently or reviewed the particular bags that Nickolaus said she'll use, and it may not do so."

Of course, why would they? If they were the ones who decided the entirely unsecure plastic shopping bags currently used across most of the state were "secure" enough for past elections, why would they bother to review those policies or new bags that one of their local clerks says is even more "secure"? As we have learned by now, the WI G.A.B. doesn't actually review much of anything when it comes to the state's elections. They just act as if they did.

• In other Kathy Nickolaus-related news, the woman who escaped criminal accountability by receiving immunity during a major scandal that sent several colleagues to jail during her time as a staffer with the Assembly Republican Caucus in 2002, and the woman who says a still-unexplained "human error" caused her to fail to report the results of some 14,000 ballots on the night of the April 5th WI Supreme Court Election (which ended up flipping the results of the election to her former colleague, incumbent Justice David "The Waukesha Strangler" Prosser), now has a new independent investigator assigned to look into her administration of elections.

As you'll recall, when Nickolaus announced, two nights after the Supreme Court election --- without informing either her own canvassing board of the state G.A.B first --- that she'd found the result-flipping mistake in her Election Night tally some 48 hours earlier, the challenger in the election, Asst. AG JoAnne Kloppenburg, called for both a "recount" of the election and a special investigator to examine what had happened.

An independent investigator has now been assigned to the investigation, according to Melissa Mulliken, Kloppenburg's campaign manager who filed the initial request.

As reported, once again, by Laurel Walker at the Journal Sentinel last week:

A former Dane County deputy district attorney who is now a criminal defense attorney has notified the JoAnne Kloppenburg campaign that he is investigating the campaign's April 20 complaint accusing Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus of misconduct in carrying out her election duties during the spring election for state Supreme Court.

Melissa Mulliken, manager for the Kloppenburg campaign, said Wednesday she had recently been notified by attorney Tim Verhoff that he was following up on the complaint she filed with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.
Neither Verhoff nor board spokesman Reid Magney would confirm the appointment or comment. The board and its staff are bound by confidentiality requirements involving elections complaints.

As The BRAD BLOG reported after the Kloppenburg complaint calling for an independent investigator was made public, there was very good reason to take the probe out of the hands of both the G.A.B. and the local Waukesha County District Attorney, a fellow Republican. Among those reasons, emails obtained by the Kloppenburg campaign, and included in their complaint, revealed that both the G.A.B. and County D.A. Brad Schimel had sent notes of support to Nickolaus in the hours following her extraordinary evening press conference when she announced the "discovery" of the previously-unincluded vote totals.

Beyond her behavior in the Supreme Court election, Nickolaus has a long and storied history of failure that demands independent inquiry. As described by the Journal Sentinel, "The complaint against Nickolaus cites not only her election night error, but also a history of 'neglect, incompetence and/or malfeasance in carrying out her public duties.'"

Indeed, Nickolaus' history of negligence and incompetence was well enough known that The BRAD BLOG flagged some of it almost a full year ago --- long before WI's political upheaval this past winter or the spring Supreme Court debacle that followed --- when it was discovered that she had been keeping election results only an unoverseeable personal computer in her own office. That led to a call for an independent audit last year from the Republican-led County Executive Committee which found some 26 issues that needed attention. Nickolaus simply scoffed at most of the recommendations, raising the ire of the Committee when she said only that she would "consider" implementing them.

Moreover, as question arose concerning her administration of the Supreme Court election in her county, past elections of hers also came under serious scrutiny, including the 2006 election when she seems to have reported some 20,000 more votes than actual voters, and the 2004 Presidential race when her own results claimed an extraordinary 97% turnout.

We'll be keeping our eyes on that investigation, naturally.

• Finally, a new concern about WI's state elections now, thanks to new electoral gamesmanship by the state Republican legislators and Gov. Scott Walker. Where Wisconsin once had the most accessible elections in the nation, including same-day voter registration, the GOP has now gone out of their way to try and keep legal voters --- particularly Democratic-leaning ones --- from being able to cast a vote. A new polling place Photo ID restriction law recently passed, and amended at the last minute to take partial-effect in the recount elections, is likely to disenfranchise an untold number of voters in the months and Presidential election year ahead.

While voters will find themselves, next year, unable to cast a normal vote once the restrictions are fully implemented, if they do not have a state-issued Photo ID or one of a very few other allowable forms of IDs (student IDs from the University of Wisconsin, for example, will not be allowable), the restrictions are only partially in place during the current series of recall elections.

Poll workers are now required to ask voters for their Photo ID, but if they do not have one, they are allowed to vote any way.

Nonetheless, we've received a few reports about voters being inappropriately turned away from the polling place during last Tuesday's elections --- even in the Republican primaries! So, we'll be looking into those reports, and, as we can learn more, we will, of course share it with readers as noteworthy.

CORRECTION: We had originally reported that only state-issued Photo IDs would be sufficient to allow a voter to vote normally next year in WI. In fact, a very few other forms of IDs will be allowed, including a U.S. passport, a military ID, a certificate of naturalization issued not more than two years before the election or an ID from a federally recognized Indian tribe in WI.

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