Monday, April 11, 2011

"I Saved Many Times All Night Long"

"I saved many times all night long." That's what Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said last Thursday evening in response to questions regarding the reason why the city of Brookfield's votes weren't in the original count for the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court election. That's also one response that lead to more questions. Shortly after her press conference, I asked questions that I believe are some of the most important, those regarding the election system and the vote counting process in Waukesha County. I've designed computer software for many different purposes including devices used in highly secure environments, so I feel that I have some relevant knowledge. I believe the answers to my questions should matter to every voter and tax payer in Wisconsin.

These are my questions for Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus:
  • Why doesn't the database in question automatically save?
  • Why do you use a system with such great potential for error?
  • How are you able to verify that an import and save is successful?
  • Since you must manually save the database upon every import, why don't you verify the results?
  • How often do you save the database when receiving returns during an election?
  • If you saved so many times, how did you lose data, particularly just one city?
  • Why do you insist on single-handedly controlling part of the election system when that type of control decreases security and transparency?
  • How do you know for certain that you didn't correctly import the first Brookfield spreadsheet?
  • Why did you wait over a day before informing the public once you verified that the error occurred?

I don't think that's asking a lot, and other people are asking many of the same and similar questions. Unfortunately, we haven't received any answers or any further explanation from Nickolaus, the person in charge of elections in Waukesha County. She's provided no response, even though many news organizations have been trying repeatedly to contact her regarding the error since the press conference. It's been over three days since then, and four days since the discovery. So there's been more than enough time to give us a clear explanation, particularly because clearly describing such a simple mistake involving a computer should be easy for a successful computer specialist such as Nickolaus. That's been very troubling to me.

Why do these questions matter? Regardless of the outcome of the election, we want to know that our elections are open, transparent and secure. My questions get right to the heart of that desire. We need to know how our election systems work and that they're secure, because these computer systems are the final word. The only thing that trumps them is a recount, but recounts depend upon the original outcome. Even the amount of money that a recount will cost depends upon the results from these computer systems, and recounts tend to just make things worse. Counting the votes right the first time is crucial. So, the answers to these questions should matter to you whether you live in Waukesha County or any other county in Wisconsin and whether you're a Republican, Democrat or independent.

We shouldn't need to ask for an investigation to get answers to relevant questions regarding an election system. The Government Accountability Board shouldn't need to go to Waukesha County, and we shouldn't need a recount in Waukesha County to get answers. Our elections must be open and transparent, we deserve to know exactly how mistakes occur, but these questions should be answered now by Nickolaus in duty to her office. Anything less will cost Wisconsin and Waukesha County tax payers more.

In order to quickly and concisely answer many of our questions, we require an open demonstration of the election system using, at the very least, the two spreadsheets from Brookfield. This should be followed by an open question and answer session with representatives from both candidates as well as the press, which should conclude only after all relevant questions have been appropriately answered. This should have been done at the press conference, there was more than enough time to put it together.

Please, Kathy Nickolaus, show us your election system and answer our relevant questions. All we ask is to know how our elections operate and how the mistake was made.

A world-renowned security expert, Bruce Schneier, summarized some of the very real issues with election systems after questions over election security during the 2004 elections. The only way we can avoid situations like the one in Waukesha County is to demand open election systems that give our elections real transparency. A non-profit organization that has been successful in these efforts is the Open Voting Consortium.

If you want to have your voice heard regarding the issues with the Waukesha County election system and the delayed explanation we were given for the missing votes, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board has a complaint form here: The election official in this case is Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus.

1 comment:

  1. The only "save" that woman has done involves Prosser's ass.