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Nickolaus won't run for re-election as Waukesha County clerk

April 28, 2012

Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, widely criticized over the conduct of elections in her county, announced Saturday she has decided not to seek re-election in November.

But the embattled clerk said in a prepared statement that she would not relinquish "any authority or responsibility" for upcoming elections through the end of her term because "I am the Waukesha County constitutional officer charged with the responsibility of elections."

After problems in the election earlier this month, Nickolaus reportedly agreed under pressure from County Executive Dan Vrakas to cede election responsibilities to her deputy for the upcoming recall races.

Her campaign manager said Saturday she "never ever agreed to hand over the responsibility given to her constitutionally as clerk" to administer the elections. "Kathy is still in charge," said the manager, Dan Hunt, adding Nickolaus was unavailable for comment.

The deputy clerk will serve as liaison between municipal clerks and county clerks, oversee election result processes and make sure the results are reported to the Government Accountability Board, Hunt said.

"This reflects the agreement between the county clerk and county executive," he added.

Vrakas issued a statement after Nickolaus announced she wouldn't run for re-election this fall.

"Our goal all along has been to restore public confidence in our elections," Vrakas said. "The Clerk's announcement does not affect our plans to improve the election process. I remain committed to doing whatever I can to ensure our elections are smoothly run and that the unofficial vote totals on election night are tabulated accurately and released to the public in a timely manner."

In her written statement Saturday, Nickolaus said she was making the announcement now "so that a qualified candidate will have the time required to mount an effective campaign."

Nickolaus drew criticism last year during a tight state Supreme Court race when she announced nearly two days after the election that she failed to include 14,000 votes from Brookfield in her unofficial totals. The error helped lead to a statewide, taxpayer-financed recount and flipped what appeared to be a close loss for Justice David Prosser to a 7,000-vote victory.

A state Government Accountability Board investigation found Nickolaus violated state law in how she reported election results, but without criminal intent.

Results have been slow in other races, as well. During the April 3 election, Nickolaus failed to post timely election results online and update them periodically for the public, as promised.

Citizens checking for results online were left in the dark for hours after voting ended, while reporters and data collectors for election reporting services resorted to tabulating contested races from yards of paper tapes hanging on walls around a meeting room. The process was akin to reading a long grocery receipt where, in some cases, the tape stretched down the wall and onto the floor in a heap.

Problems with Nickolaus' reporting system were evident soon after the earliest municipal clerks delivered, in person as she required, the voting machine memory packs and paper tapes showing vote totals. When Nickolaus' staff tried to upload results from the memory cards into the county clerk's reporting program, it wouldn't work.

Asked whether the April 3 problems raised new questions about her competence after an all-nighter in her office, Nickolaus told the Journal Sentinel: "What it does say is that I'm willing to stay and get the job done. That's exactly what I did."

In December, the Government Accountability Board issued a memorandum with instructions on how Nickolaus was to collect and post election night results and conduct the canvass.

Since the April 3 election, she has been working with her deputy on recall election preparations, though her statement Saturday emphasized that she's still in charge.

"Residents of Waukesha County and the state of Wisconsin should know that election integrity has always been my primary focus," Nickolaus said Saturday. "Because of this and the fact that I am the Waukesha County constitutional officer charged with the responsibility of elections I have not relinquished any authority or responsibility in upcoming elections through the end of my term."

Nickolaus thanked Waukesha County residents "for the opportunity to serve them for the last 10 years."

"Much has been accomplished during this time," she said in her statement. "I also want the people of Waukesha County to know I will continue to serve them as clerk until the end of my term."

Three people have registered as intended candidates for the post, which will be decided in the November general election: Pewaukee Ald. Kathleen Novack; Kathleen Karalewitz, administrator and clerk-treasurer for the Town of Mukwonago; and Jessica R. Read of Sussex.

Laurel Walker of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

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Homestead Animal Farm: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends, W320 N9127 Highway 83, Hartland. Corn maze, hayrides, barnyard animals, pumpkins and other fall items. $6 maze, $2 hayrides, $2 animals, $9 all three. (262) 966-3840.

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