The Wisconsin Supreme Court election looks like a blast from Kentucky’s past.
Old-time Bluegrass State pols were pros at making chicken salad out of chicken-you-know-what when elections went the wrong way.
“Fraudulent activity did not end with the buying of votes,” wrote Lowell H. Harrison and James C. Klotter in A New History of Kentucky. The authors added that official ballot counting was delayed so returns could be “fixed.”
“As one county judge noted, it was standard practice to call party headquarters to see if the election was tight ‘and ask them how many they needed,’” the historians explained. “In close races, each party held back local totals as long as possible in order to counter suspicious late results favorable to the other party.”
Just when it seemed that assistant state Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg had unseated Justice David Prosser by about 200 votes, Kathy Nickolaus, the Republican clerk of predominantly Republican Waukesha County, claimed she innocently failed to report more than 14,000 ballots to the Associated Press. The new total gave the incumbent, who happens to be her old boss, a 7,500 vote lead.
“Nickolaus previously worked for a GOP caucus that was under the control of…Prosser, who was speaker of the Assembly at the time,” the Associated Press reported.
Oh, the supreme court election was officially non-partisan. But everybody knew Kloppenburg is a liberal Democrat and Prosser is a conservative Republican.
It’s also no secret that Prosser is a pal of GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who has declared holy war on public employee unions.
Meanwhile, Nickolaus has said she’s sorry. She said the snafu was an honest mistake.
Democrats and union folks are skeptical. They want the ballots impounded and recounted.
The Service Employees International Union pointed out that Nickolaus' methods of tallying votes have raised eyebrows before.
Last year, “county officials ordered an audit of Waukesha County's outdated election system after Nickolaus removed election data from county computers and installed them on personal computers in her office,” read an SEIU statement. “Even before this issue, Nickolaus was resistant to an independent and thorough review of her election system.”
The SEIU suggested “the mysterious, and arguably timely, discovery of ballots on a personal computer appears to be the latest example of Governor Walker and his friends unfairly using the levers of government to silence Wisconsin voters."
In addition, the statement compared Nickolaus to Katherine Harris, the Florida Republican secretary of state who "went to unprecedented lengths to deliver the [2000 presidential] election to the GOP.”
The Florida follies reminded me of Kentucky politics of yore, too.
Anyway, to boost her cred, Nickolaus trotted out a local Democrat to back her up. But some people wonder if Nickolaus somehow fudged the figures before the Dem got a gander at them.
Of course, if Prosser is declared the winner, the righties will keep their 4-3 majority on the high court, which may end up having to rule on Walker's public employee union-gutting bill.
But Walker, who was pulling for Prosser all the way, would do well to remember the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.”
Nickolaus has further fired up the faithful on the other side. You can bet the recall drives against Walker 's willing helpers in the state senate will now shift from Mach II into warp speed.
In the end, Walker may end up keeping a friendly judge but losing his senate majority. And the governor will likely face his own recall election after next January.