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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Embattled Clerk Faces Demand for Ballots

WAUKESHA, Wisc. (CN) - A Wisconsin county clerk who bungled the results of two critical elections must turn over ballots from the unsuccessful attempt to recall Gov. Scott Walker, a woman claims in court.

Margy Lambert says Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus and Waukesha County denied her request under the Open Records Law "on unreasonably inflated estimates of the staff time required to produce the records."

Lambert says she made multiple requests for the ballots because she is concerned about election fraud.

Her first and second requests, filed July 2 and July 3, were filed less than a month after the recall election, according to the complaint.

She allegedly filed a third request on Aug. 8.

Under the Wisconsin Open Records Law, Wisconsin Statute 19.31, "it is the declared pubic policy of this state that every citizen is entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of the government," the complaint states.

Lambert goes on to say that Statute 19.31 "affirms the presumption of complete public access to governmental records, consistent with the conduct of government business."

The statutes allegedly provides that "the denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied."

Lambert insists that this is not an exceptional case. Though her request is admittedly "voluminous," Lambert says that the requested records "are reasonably limited as to subject matter and length of time represented in compliance with Wisconsin Statute 19.31."

A resident of Middleton, Lambert says she is "concerned about election fraud and [is] a member of the Hand-Count Votes Now! coalition, an unincorporated association that works in coordination with its coalition partner, the unincorporated group Wisconsin Wave."

"She, along with these groups and others in Wisconsin, is concerned that voting machines used to optically scan ballots in Wisconsin may not correctly tabulate votes," according to the complaint.

The time estimate Nickolaus gave for producing the recall voted ballots "is based on the incorrect assumption that hand counting the voted ballots as [the citizen] and her group propose will take the same amount of time as a statutory recount of the ballots," Lambert says.

Nickolaus also claims that a "'no-touch' rule is required even though the time for recount has passed and the voted ballots are scheduled for destruction," according to the complaint.

Lambert says that Nickolaus has "reasonable concerns" since there are overlapping requests for the same records, but this does not justify a denial of all requests.

A better solution would be to notify "all requesters of a specific time the ballots will be produced for inspection by all interested parties," according to the complaint.

Lambert also suggested a postponed inspection since the clerk's staff might be busy preparing for the November general election and December special election.

Nickolaus came under fire just after the contentious Supreme Court election in Wisconsin in 2011. She left numbers out of her Waukesha County tallies and did not report the error for two days.

Ultimately, her blunder changed the victor from the Democrat's candidate to the incumbent conservative, Justice David Prosser. A recount confirmed Prosser's victory. A subsequent investigation of Nickolaus found that she violated the law by failing to post all the returns on election night.

Nickolaus returned to the spotlight after she once again had ballot-counting issues during this spring's Republican presidential primary.

Her plans to post timely election results online and update them periodically for the public failed. Reporters were left to sort through pieces of paper taped to the wall.

Lambert seeks an order compelling Nickolaus and Waukesha County to permit her and Hand-Count Votes Now to inspect the ballots from the June 5, 2012, recall election. She is represented by Robert Dreps of Godfrey & Kahn in Madison.

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