As it made clear at the start of the recount of Wisconsin's April 5th Supreme Court election, the agency in charge of administering that election is determined to prove to the people of Wisconsin that the votes were counted honestly and openly.
As I have said since before the start of the recount, the Government Accountability Board (GAB) has a conflict of interest. The GAB is in charge of investigating allegations of illegal or unethical activities made against the people the GAB trains to run elections. Any fraud or incompetence the GAB might uncover among municipal and county clerks is an indictment of the GAB's ability to train and oversee those same clerks. The GAB has a huge incentive to avoid discovery of wrongdoing.
Their dual role results in some conflicting explanations from them.
First, in recount news, the state continues to wait for Waukesha County to finish recounting. That's about all the news. Challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg has gained 319 net votes with only about 60,000 votes left to recount. She needs to make up another 7,000 votes which is very unlikely.
Waukesha County officials have been given until May 26th to finish, but they say now they expect to complete their recount by May 20th, or perhaps May 23rd at the latest. Only two weeks after the rest of the state. Good job, Waukesha County!
The GAB recently posted a lengthy response to questions that have come up about open ballot bags discovered during the recount. Here is a portion of what they wrote:
A hole in a ballot bag or a missing security tag is not enough evidence alone to discard the ballots inside. The ability to put a hand into a ballot bag is not by itself evidence of fraud.
That's an interesting and definitive pronouncement considering that Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the GAB, had this to say only a few days ago:
State law clearly gives each county’s Board of Canvassers the primary authority to conduct the recount, and to decide which ballots should and should not be counted.
But in the same new memo, the GAB backtracks and says this:
Under state law, the G.A.B. is required to rely on the certifications of the county Boards of Canvassers in making its certification of the final results. If either of the campaigns has unresolved issues with how individual county Boards of Canvassers handled the recounting of certain ballots, their exclusive remedy under state law is through an appeal to the circuit court.
Hmmm. The County Board of Canvassers are ultimately responsible for deciding whether votes can be rejected in a recount, but the GAB can write a memo stating that certain ballots cannot be rejected even though the GAB is required to rely on the decisions of the County Canvass Boards, most of which are headed by county clerks trained by the GAB. That's not very confusing, is it? The courts can sort it all out, right?
Here are some of the other safeguards meant to insure honest and auditable elections, according to the GAB memo:
After the polls close, election workers print out a tape which lists the tabulated vote totals. The poll workers remove the voted ballots and place them into a secured container or bag. The bag is secured using a tamper evident numbered seal. Ballot containers have all potential openings secured in such a manner that no ballot may be removed, nor any ballot added, without visible interference or damage to that ballot container.
The seal number is recorded on the Inspectors’ Statement and Ballot Container Certificate by the poll workers.
Seems to me there have been numerous examples of failure of these procedures. So then what?
Even if the container or bag is somehow opened later, or if the chain of custody is broken, election officials have the original print-out tape from the machine, as well as the electronic memory device from the machine. This enables election officials to determine the election night vote count.
Yes! Of Course! Nobody who opens a ballot bag or fails to document the chain of custody or changes serial numbers on inspection reports could ever fool a machine! See? All that other stuff is really unnecessary because we have the print-out and the memory device which cannot possibly be altered in any way! It's foolproof! There is no such thing as computer fraud. The machines are way too smart!
Remind me again, who is in charge of this recount? I honestly have no idea. It's become a dog-and-pony show in many ways. "Watch as we magically conjure up the same numbers we reported on April 5th with our infallible voting machines!"
Kennedy's agency also investigated Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus after her botched (at best) handling of election night returns. He promised to do a thorough review and eventually issue a detailed report (we're still waiting), but before he began the investigation he said this:
We have confidence in Wisconsin’s county and municipal clerks, and do not believe any of them would do anything illegal to jeopardize their own reputation, or Wisconsin’s reputation for clean, fair and transparent elections.
Hmmm. That must have been one tough review, considering he began the investigation by concluding nothing illegal was done.
Here are a few pronouncements that Kennedy and the GAB did not make, but that can safely be inferred from the pattern they've shown...
By itself, the fact that a Republican county clerk once worked for a Supreme Court candidate when he was the Republican Caucus leader in the Wisconsin Assembly does not prove fraud.
By itself, the fact that that same candidate in the April 5th Supreme Court election admitted during a 2001 corruption scandal investigation that he ordered state employees, like that clerk, to do partisan campaign work on state time does not prove fraud.
By itself, the fact that the clerk was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony during that corruption investigation does not prove fraud.
By itself, the fact that the clerk uses a unique and secretive process of tabulating votes, including use of software designed solely for her office by the Government Accountability Board, does not prove fraud.
By itself, the fact that the clerk was recently reprimanded by her county board for her secretive, undocumented, and unsecured vote tabulating process does not prove fraud.
By itself, the fact that the clerk forgot to include 14,000 City of Brookfield votes in the totals she supplied to the media on election night does not prove fraud.
By itself, the fact that the clerk admitted asking the City of Brookfield clerk to send her a second set of vote totals on election night (allegedly because the first spreadsheet had too many columns) does not prove fraud.
By itself, the fact that the clerk did not tell anyone about her error until 28 hours after she discovered it does not prove fraud.
By itself, the fact that the Supreme Court candidate who benefited from the discovery of that error denied meeting with the Republican Governor after the error was identified but before it was made public, then later changed his story and said he might have stopped by the Governor's reception desk that night to pick up souvenir pens for some visiting international students does not prove fraud.
And, of course, as the GAB has assured us, the fact that numerous Waukesha County ballot bags from that election have been found improperly sealed, or torn, or with gaping holes in them, does not prove fraud.
Someone asked me today if I thought election fraud was committed in Waukesha County. I don't know. I don't think fraud decided the election, but I can't say I'm confident that fraud wasn't attempted or considered.
The Government Accountability Board said at the outset of the recount that one of their goals was to reassure people like me that Wisconsin's elections are conducted fairly and transparently.
I'm not convinced.