Waukesha County criticized for its vote-counting process

WAUKESHA -- The way election results were counted in Waukesha County is again drawing criticism after Tuesday night's presidential primary election in Wisconsin. Complaints include slow results, and hours of lag time before numbers were put online. The latest criticism comes after a big controversy last year, when some votes were not counted at all.

Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus says counting, recounting and double-checking all takes time, and she would rather be safe than sorry. One person who was watching the vote counting operation in Waukesha County until 2:00 a.m. Wednesday, April 4th says it was crazy.

Nickolaus says it was more important to take time to be accurate, than to be fast. "What we're working on is that the integrity of the election was in place. We had all the results as they came in posted, so anybody in the public, or anyone in the media had absolute, immediate availability of the results," Nickolaus said.

Raw voting machine numbers were taped to the wall outside Nickolaus' office Tuesday night, and reporters and candidates were told to add the numbers themselves. Many other communities posted results online.

Joe Petrie is a reporter with FOX6's media partners at the Waukesha Patch, and described Wednesday what he saw as he waited for Waukesha County election results for hours after the polls closed. "We were shocked at the way totals were coming in," Petrie said.

Waukesha County's vote-counting procedure is now under the microscope again. In April of 2011, more than 14,000 votes in the City of Brookfield were not initially counted, after Nickolaus didn't press "save" on the computer. "This is human error, which I apologize for," Nickolaus said last year.

When the mistake was discovered, it flip-flopped the winner in a close Wisconsin Supreme Court race. Joanne Kloppenburg was no longer the victor - David Prosser was. After that, Nickolaus worked with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board on a process to check the numbers. Nickolaus says that is what slowed down vote counting during Tuesday's election.

Nickolaus says she will work with the GAB to see if the procedures she must follow can be streamlined in the future to make things move more quickly. "We took our time, and I think anybody who was in the situation I was in last year would take their time," Nickolaus said.

Nickolaus says there is also a piece of equipment she is waiting for that would make the process much faster - a special modem that would allow the municipalities to electronically forward their totals to the main office. Right now, each municipality hand-carries the totals into the office.

The GAB says it will be investigating the Waukesha County situation.