BANANA REPUBLIC

In my final years in Chicago I worked in an office in Greektown, roughly at Halsted and Jackson. A number of businesses in the area were notable for not having…well, customers. Or certainly not enough of them to stay in business. It was quite obvious even to the most naive observer that a number of storefronts in the neighborhood were fronts for Chicago's rather active Greek organized crime groups.

One day a coworker and I decided to relax after a long day by retiring to a nearby bar to watch the Bulls. We entered this ostensible drinking establishment and noted that there were A) no customers and, more unusually, B) no bartender. There was a dusty TV tuned not to local sports but to some baffling Greek soap opera. After a few minutes a gentleman emerged from a back room to inform us that they were unable to serve drinks because they had not received a delivery that day. It was the most ridiculous excuse I have ever heard before or since – and remember, I teach 18 year olds for a living. What do you mean, I asked, gesturing toward the clearly stocked bar. He drolly repeated "No drinks. No delivery today." in a tone that unmistakably indicated that he did not give a shit whether or not I believed him.

He locked the door behind us when we left.

This is why organized crime is so often described as "brazen" among journalists. They operate in the open and under the flimsiest of excuses because they know that everyone knows what they're doing but they simply do not care because what are you gonna do about it, huh? When your organization is so large and so powerful that you can insulate yourselves from the consequences of illegal behavior, why bother to hide it? Which is exactly the attitude we have seen and continue to see from the Scott Walker-era Wisconsin GOP.

In what would ordinarily be a shocking development, on Thursday the Clerk of overwhelmingly Republican Waukesha County (in suburban Milwaukee) fortuitously "discovered" 7500 votes for the Republican candidate in the hotly-contested State Supreme Court election, which had been a virtual tie beforehand. Amazingly, the number of newly discovered votes is just high enough to avoid a mandatory statewide recount.

The Clerk in question, one Kathy Nickolaus, received statewide and national attention last fall for making the unique and unusual decision to keep all of the county's election results not on county servers but on her personal PC and only on her PC. From a contemporaneous news story:

Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus' decision to go it alone in how she collects and maintains election results has some county officials raising a red flag about the integrity of the system.

Nickolaus said she decided to take the election data collection and storage system off the county's computer network – and keep it on stand-alone personal computers accessible only in her office – for security reasons.

"What it gave me was good security of the elections from start to finish, without the ability of someone unauthorized to be involved," she said.

Nonetheless, Director of Administration Norman A. Cummings said because Nickolaus has kept them out of the loop, the county's information technology specialists have not been able to verify Nickolaus' claim that the system is secure from failure.

"How does anybody else in the county know, except for her verbal word, that there are backups, and that the software she has out there is performing as it should?" he said. "There's no way I can assure that the election system is going to be fine for the next presidential election."

And Nickolaus seemed to have the cockiness of a well protected mafioso down pat:

Several committee members said they were uncomfortable with Nickolaus' refusal to adopt the recommendations (ed: to make changes to the system, including assigning a unique logon and password for each employee).

During one part of the discussion, Dwyer erupted in exasperation at Nickolaus' facial expressions.

"There really is nothing funny about this, Kathy," he said, raising his voice. "Don't sit there and grin when I'm explaining what this is about.

"Don't sit there and say I will take it into consideration," he said, asking her pointedly whether she would change the passwords.

"I have not made my decision," she answered. After supervisors continued to press the issue, Nickolaus indicated she would create three different passwords.

"This isn't that big of a deal. It isn't worth an argument," she said. "This is ridiculous."

Nickolaus also said she would make her own assessment of when to back up computer programming for election ballots – and store the more frequent backup in another building, as the auditor recommended.

And this is the tale of how Wisconsin suddenly became Nigeria in terms of electoral transparency and credibility. When third world dictators rig elections they don't really try to hide it. They know that you know what they did. The thing is, they don't care – because they also know that there's nothing you can do about it. Thus Wisconsinites will sit back and watch while their state judiciary, Republican-dominated legislature, and Republican-controlled Executive branch assure the good citizens that there's nothing to see here. Everything's on the up-and-up. Her story checks out. Honest.

Nobody will believe such blatant nonsense but it won't matter. Once the a group of criminals get enough cops and judges on the payroll they lose their fear of operating in broad daylight.

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49 Responses to “BANANA REPUBLIC”

  1. Greg Says:

    How is this kind of thing even legal? Where I come from, in the distant land of Canada, our elections are recorded using the state of the art technology known as paper and pencil ballots. It is pretty hard to forge, lose or have any irregularities. I hope this matter goes to court.

  2. J. Dryden Says:

    Didn't Florida in 2000 pretty much settle this issue? What is Nickolaus but Katherine Harris writ small? And as we saw then and see now, America does not give two tin shits about democracy. Nobody votes, and when they do, it's usually for the wrong reasons. And even when people manage to haul themselves together to form some kind of movement–Obama '08, the Teapartiers–they all expect immediate results and instant gratification and then give up/splinter when they don't get it.

    Participatory government isn't for the lazy, the spoiled, and the ignorant, and we're all three, so why should any of us be surprised when elections are openly stolen? Actually, check that–not "stolen"–you cannot steal something that its owner just throws away. The joke's on the evil overlords, though, since they're hijacking a plane low on fuel and mid-ocean.

    As a sad side-note, I used to live and teach in Waukesha, and it's a really nice little town/suburb, with genuinely friendly citizens, and almost enough history to make it charming. Of course, one could say the same about the state of WI as a whole. Sad to see it just shrug and say "Meh" at this wretched exercise in bargain-bin corruption.

  3. xynzee Says:

    @J: Looking at her pic, she looks pretty big.

    Ironically Faust News is banging the election fraud drum. Perhaps they should be careful which rocks get over turned in their drumming. It's also concerning when someone like Mugabe starts suggesting that the UN oversee US election results and perhaps he's right.

  4. Noskilz Says:

    With these guys too much is never enough, and they do seem to have a flair for overreach. I mean Walker could have had just about everything he dreamed of, but he had to have it all. This Prosser fellow couldn't work the dignified jurist schtick – he had to see how many noses he could get up shortly before the vote. The House GOP couldn't be happy with an array of cuts that if people like Krugman are right, could undo whatever tenuous recovery might be underway, which might be awkward for the administration as the presidential campaign gets underway, yet they just had to go full teabagger and make a grab for their wildest fantasies as well.

    The old saw about someone getting enough rope to hang themselves seems relevant, except it seems more an penchant for suicide than the work of a wily opponent. And of course, whatever damage done along the way won't magically go away just because one or the other GOP politician happens to get overexcited and kneecaps himslef.

    However, it's definitely not a good sign that the biggest obstacle these jokers seem to be facing at the moment is their own self-destructive tendencies.

  5. Patrick Says:

    Even if the number of ballots didn't trigger an automatic recount, it looks like there will be a recount anyway. The democratic candidate can request a recount in any wards they choose at a cost of $5 per ward. But why are they keeping records on computer anyway, are they using electronic voting machines? Is there no paper trail? If the voting is electronic and there isn't a paper trail, then a recount won't do much. good.

  6. Facehammer Says:

    "It's also concerning when someone like Mugabe starts suggesting that the UN oversee US election results and perhaps he's right."

    What the hell. This has got to be the most ridiculous thing I've heard in a long time. Got a link to it?

  7. Tim H. Says:

    My how the GOP has changed, Thomas Dewey must be spinning in his grave.

  8. Middle Seaman Says:

    At my home, we had little doubt that the GOP will not let a stupid election get in their way this time. Actually, I was surprised that in 2008, the GOP let the presidential elections slip away from them. The real question is what the Democrats going to do about it.

    In 2000, they did very little and brought us wars and economic collapse. We have a dispute at home. The lady insists on peaceful means. The hoodlum has a long family history of living with extreme violence, therefore, he believes that the best way to fight a mafia is with explosives.

    It used to be a democracy.

  9. displaced Capitalist Says:

    What's this? No NPF today? Tsk.

    (Excellent rant though.)

  10. Kevin Says:

    I seem to recall comments here earlier this week about Occam's Razor. Let me check that…

    Bureacratic arrogance and incompetence: highly likely, even a given. Devious plan to fabricate just enough votes to avoid an automatic recount: not impossible, but less likely; hardly the empty Greek bar.

    Even though somewhat pleased by the apparent actual outcome of the election, I still want to yell at Kathy Nickolaus, "How could you be so stupid and incompetent!?". There should be a complete independent investigation and she should lose her job. And I have to concede that I'm just about convinced that good old paper and pen (not pencil!) is the best chance we have to complete an election without 49% of us screaming "fraud!".

  11. SaltyJustice Says:

    Where I live, in the distant land of Canada, if I found out some official was pulling this I'd go set his/her house on fire. Twenty arsons back to back sends a clear message I think.
    If you yanks think that's too extreme, remember that this (unelected?) official is literally stealing your rights. Didn't you guys fight a war over that?

  12. Kulkuri Says:

    How about they disqualify all the votes for that county and charge the clerk with voter fraud??

  13. Pam Says:

    "If you yanks think that's too extreme, remember that this (unelected?) official is literally stealing your rights. Didn't you guys fight a war over that?"

    That's why I love the Canadians. They get it!

  14. Fifth Dentist Says:

    "It's not the people who vote that count; it's the people who count the votes." — Uncle Joe Stalin

  15. Jude Says:

    Actually, there are no automatic recounts in Wisconsin. An interested party has to request a recount within 3 business days of the final vote count/canvas. If the difference between parties is less than 0.5% of the total votes cast, the state picks up the tab for the whole thing. It the difference is between 0.5%-2% of total votes cast, the person requesting the recount has to pony up $5.00 per ward, and the state pays the rest. If it's outside of 2%, the person requesting the recount is on the hook for the whole bill.

    Right now, we're probably looking at the $5.00 per ward charge. Kloppenburg could raise that amount in ten minutes.

  16. John Says:

    And this is why all voting in any democracy should occur on pen and paper, and be counted manually in a publicly-transmitted (Televised, webcast, etc.) venue. Yes, it's expensive and inefficient, but it's also incredibly difficult to rig, and in a democracy that is far more important than money.

    Electronic voting is far, FAR too easy to usurp. Especially given that our voting machines are farmed out to the lowest bidder, and are a nation-wide joke in the computing security world. People have gotten voting machines to play Pacman without ever touching the tamper seals, altering vote tallies is trivial in comparison. ESPECIALLY when you allow one person to hold all the votes on their PERSONAL machine.

  17. butler Says:

    It is starting to come out that this is not just any County Clerk. Not only has this County Clerk disdained any oversight or recommendations after an audit of her suspect handling of 2010 state elections by the County Department of Administration in favor of continuing to keep election results "on her personal PC and only her PC", but see the below from:

    http://www.sodahead.com/fun/wisconsin-supreme-court-race-turns-after-ballot-miscount/question-1660295/

    … "Nickolaus was given immunity from prosecution in a 2002 criminal investigation into illegal activity by members of the Republican Assembly caucus where she worked as a data analyst and computer specialist. Prosser, who as speaker of the Assembly in 1995 and 1996 controlled the same caucus, was not part of the investigation. Nickolaus resigned from her state job in 2002 just before launching her county clerk campaign.

    The corruption probe took down five legislative leaders, all of whom reached plea deals."

    I'll ask again re: recent events in WI: where the fuck is the FBI?

  18. mwing Says:

    In my old neighborhood there was a corner store that was clearly not a real corner store. It was usually closed, the stacks of paper towels in the window were covered with dust, and on the occasions, usually Saturdays, where it did seem to be open, only old, old men went into it. Finally it was explained to me by someone better informed, that it was a bookie. I guess only old men still gamble via bookies. As Ed said, it was completely obvious that something other than a corner store was going on. But in this case, it was only a bookie, a relic of a different age and relatively harmless, so the indifference of law-enforcement sort of made sense.

  19. Xynzee Says:

    @Face: it was a comment he made after the 2000 election. He was getting stuck into the blatant hypocrisy of how he felt his and other developing nation governments were being watched like hawks and look at what happens in the US.

  20. Mrs. Chili Says:

    If I weren't already disgusted and despondent, this would do it for me.

  21. tenacitus Says:

    Things like this happen in every election in the US. Read Steal This Vote for all the shameful details.

  22. sluggo Says:

    Like paper ballots would be expensive or hard to count….give me an FN break.

    Fill in the circle next to the candidates' name, run it thru the scantron machine and stick it the FN box!!!
    badda bing badda boom……DONE. Computer counts instantly and a paper backup.

    BTW.. Not voting should be a misdemeanor.

  23. Southern Beale Says:

    Gov. Scott Walker, on Wednesday:

    “As long as the rules are clear, as long as there aren’t ballots somehow found out of the blue that weren’t counted before, things of that nature, as long as everything’s above board, I think that’s fair,” said Walker.

    I guess if they're found "out of the red" that's a different story. IOKIYAR.

    What I fail to understand is how this woman kept her job after the fishiness that happened last fall. How was she not fired? How come there wasn't a court challenge? Something? Anything?

    How is it someone can just thumb their nose at the rules and do what they please? How was there no attention, no one digging into her background, snooping around her bank records, anything? No … lefty James O'Keefe sting operation, someone in a fucking pimp costume and a hidden camera offering her a few hundred thou to swing the election for the GOP and Free Market Jesus?

    Shit's gonna happen, sure. But when it does happen, and no one does anything except say tsk tsk, shit's gonna happen .. .AGAIN.

  24. tenacitus Says:

    As Kevin pointed out a lot of the people who oversee elections in the US are really incompetent. Another reason why there is so much election fraud in the US is that not enough money is spent on making sure that the elections are conducted in a transparent and accurate manner with the votes being both anonymous and traceable at the same time.

    Furthermore each county and state has its own election laws so there is no national standard. Since the election officials are political appointees they also game the system frequently. Many of the things that we take for granted in the US such as the primaries and caucuses originated around reconstruction to restrict the ability of black people to vote. Its true that there have been primaries before the civil war but their structure was different.

    I would really encourage everyone to read Steal This Vote its truly eye opening. Lastly some of the election practices in Nigeria were copied from the USA because it was clear to the politicians in both countries that the American practices made it easier to steal elections.

    Don't forget that the CIA has been showing America's allies all over the world how elections can be rigged or stolen.

  25. Southern Beale Says:

    Another hilarious element to this story is the headline over at that pathetic excuse for a news rag, the Daily Caller: "The Wisconsin judicial race: This is what democracy looks like".

    The lede? "The left is trying to steal another election…."

    LOL. So, in Wingnuttia, when a partisan clerk suddenly "finds" a few thousand votes on her personal computer which can't be audited because she "forgot to save the spreadsheet" this is democracy?

    Good to know this is how the other side thinks. I believe the rest of America heartily disagrees.

    I mean cripes they aren't even trying anymore. This IOKIYAR shit is getting old. Can you imagine the outrage if a liberal elections official mysteriously "found" some Kloppenburg votes on her personal laptop?

  26. Southern Beale Says:

    @sluggo:

    BTW.. Not voting should be a misdemeanor.

    Disagree. Not voting can and often is an act of protest.

  27. acer Says:

    @John:
    Yeah. But in a dictatorship of the dollar, nothing's anywhere close to being as important as money, the bigger money the better. That's why ever since Reaganomics, the US left has been the political Washington Generals.

    I just wonder why anyone would sign off on right-libertarian horseshit for anything less than $250K/yr.

  28. cerb Says:

    @acer

    Because a lot of conservatives are so damn delusional that they believe that they're going to be filthy rich REALLY, REALLY SOON. Since these people will be rich really, really soon they want to keep all of their hard earned future earnings, which of course will never materialize.

  29. acer Says:

    @So. Beale 12:20: IOKIYAR is the final outcome of this 50-year temper tantrum the right has thrown about the "liberal media." ANY public questioning of ANY conservative is automatically a pointy-headed politically correct leftist conspiracy.

  30. Southern Beale Says:

    @acer:

    When your idea of a "gotcha" question is an off-handed query about what newspapers you read, then you really shouldn't be taken seriously by anyone. And yet, we live in a country where the politics is so corrupted that the media continues its Sarah Palin infatuation and John McCain is a mainstay on every Sunday morning chat show.

    The media … oy. Hard to feel sorry for them anymore.

  31. DS Says:

    I would like to join my fellow Canadians in saying how totally F'ed the American voting system is. Why is there no standardized voting law at a national level? Further, why do you even have to register to vote? I mean, in the US, you actually have to register to exercise your democratic rights. That is fucked. Why do you actually have partisan politicians like this genius individual overseeing the voting process? Should there not be some kind of non-partisan Commission like Elections Canada overseeing the actual counting of ballots? Last, and here is a good one, why was this woman actually allowed to do keep the tally of votes on her Dell PC? Is your political system so broken that a Republican Attorney General would not challenge this in court? Perhaps there should be some debate about how these delightful questions can even occur in the largest democracy in the world in 2012.

  32. Jen Says:

    This makes the whining about ACORN look like child's play. How can you keep ELECTION RESULTS OF A COUNTY on a personal computer? Are these people insane?

  33. Pseudonym Says:

    DS: Second largest democracy in the world in 2011, but other than that I agree.

  34. Edward Says:

    I once heard Jimmy Carter say that his center would not monitor U.S. elections because there are too many opportunities for fraud.

    From what I understand, Kerry actually won the 2004 election; the Republicans stole the Ohio vote. Maybe this time, given how stirred up people are in Wisconsin, something will be done. Citizens Action of Wisconsin has called for:

    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/04/08-2

    an immediate federal investigation and immediate impoundment of all computer equipment, ballots, and other relevant evidence needed to verify a fair vote count in Waukesha County

    Perhaps we should all call the Justice department to urge that this happen.

  35. Edward Says:

    P.S.– I just tried calling the number 1-800-253-3931 for submitting complaints to the Justice Dept. regarding voting discrimination. I left a voice message.

  36. daphne Says:

    Ed, you wrote the column I would have written, and in my own words. I know because as I read it to him my husband thought I was talking spontaneously.

    In my neighborhood there was a pharmacy with products from the 60s covered in dust and cobwebs. This was during the late 80s

  37. daphne Says:

    nicely done, Moreorless.

  38. Edward Says:

    Actually a better number might be the DOJ comment line: 202-353-1555

  39. Shelton Blake Says:

    Walker can get to the bottom of this electoral imbroglio by having the Fitzgeralds ask their Dad, State Police Chief Fitzgerald to undertake a thorough investigation.

  40. Major Kong Says:

    @Edward – I've been voting in Ohio since 1994. The 2004 election was unlike anything I'd ever seen before or since. Something just didn't feel quite right about it.

  41. Lester Says:

    Please change your font! Good reporting. Difficult to read. No. Really abysmal. The message is lost in this font.

  42. Patrick Says:

    @Southern Beale

    Misdemeanors can be a form of protest. Also, if secret ballot is maintained, there is nothing to stop you from protesting by writing in "Bozo the Clown"

  43. Charlie Says:

    DS: in the United States, voting is governed by the states. Our form of federalism allows each state to set its own qualifications and procedures. The federal Constitution provides for certain minimums and has superceded state laws on occasion, but voting itself is never mentioned in the Constitution. It only guarantees a republican form of government and left the right to vote as part of the rights of state citizenship. Federal citizenship did not become an issue until the Civil War and later immigration cases. The Supreme Court has been very cautious in regulating election procedures; so long as a federally-eligible voter is not preventing from casting a ballot, the federal government will likely not get involved.

  44. Hazy Davy Says:

    Well, we knew there were "made" men, when VP Dick Cheney shot a man in the face, and the man's family apologized to Cheney for the inconvenience of the media coverage of it.

    The laughing at someone challenging the storage system…that's kind of the same thing.

  45. JohnR Says:

    I was not surprised by the fact that an official previously involved in deeply corrupt GOP activities happened to find enough forgotten votes from a patently illegal vote-storage system to put the GOP candidate well over the top to victory in an election critical to protect the GOP's patently illegal activities. I was amused by the fact that virtually all the observers, including Nate Silver, stroked their beards and wisely nodded "Seems perfectly plausible to me!" Invoking "Occams Razor", indeed! If it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, I don't particularly care if Occam's Razor tells me it's probably a Platypus, I want to check it out thoroughly for duck DNA.