David Prosser and JoAnne Kloppenburg Ironically, it was Charlie Sykes who first started casting doubt on election results in the race for Supreme Court between incumbent David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. The day after the election he was darkly intimating the possibility of widespread voter fraud and busloads of people who might have […]

David Prosser and JoAnne Kloppenburg

Ironically, it was Charlie Sykes who first started casting doubt on election results in the race for Supreme Court between incumbent David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. The day after the election he was darkly intimating the possibility of widespread voter fraud and busloads of people who might have crossed the border to vote illegally.

The accusation that sneaky Illinois residents cross the border to vote illegally, and only for liberals, has been an oft-repeated urban legend – with never a shred of proof presented – among certain conservatives going back to 2004. Sykes tells me he wasn’t saying this actually happened, merely that if it did, there was nothing in state law to prevent it. So what the heck, why not keep reinforcing that bogus claim?

But by Thursday, conservatives were beginning to change their tune, as word spread that a whopping 14,000-vote error was made in Waukesha County (not reporting the totals for Brookfield) that would benefit Prosser. This brought forth rage from liberals like the Daily Kos, who charged there was a conservative plot, and Ed Garvey, who claimed Sykes was in on it.

The Daily Kos accused Republicans of waiting until they could determine how many added votes were needed to make it impossible for Kloppenburg to get a free recount: If the margin of victory is more than one-half of one percent, the candidate must instead pay for any recount. The only problem with this handy-sounding conspiracy is that after the Brookfield totals were added, along with adjustments in other precincts, Prosser’s margin stood at 6,744 votes, leaving him some 700 short of what was needed to deny Kloppenburg a free recount. All that devious planning was apparently for naught.

There’s no doubt Waukesha County clerk Kathy Nickolaus made a colossal error, and yes, she has a history of working for the Assembly Republican Caucus, including a period when Prosser was Assembly Speaker. Even worse, the Democratic canvasser in Waukesha who initially said she was OK with the results is 80 years old and has now released a statement distancing herself from the amended results. 

But Kloppenburg has hired a top national expert on contesting elections, and her team has been going through the Waukesha results with a fine-tooth comb. The State Accountability Board, which reviews elections, will also be taking a close look. If there was some kind of fraud, it will be very difficult to hide.

All signs point to this being a case of incompetence. In the past, conservatives such as blogger James Wigderson have questioned Nikolaus, suggesting she is in over her head: “It seems like every election there’s another issue with the vote tallies.”

Nate Silver, arguably the country’s best analyst of elections and polling results, took a remarkably detailed look at the results and saw no evidence of voter fraud because the adjusted totals for both Brookfield and Waukesha County were what you would expect. He looked at many variables, including the percentage of government employees in the county (in a race where Gov. Scott Walker’s crackdown on unions was driving the high turnout) and found nothing amiss.

Some have also raised eyebrows at Wisconsin’s decentralized election system: the state has 1,850 municipal clerks handling elections, well more than any state in the nation. But Kevin Kennedy, executive director of the state’s Government Accountability Board, says there’s no evidence Wisconsin’s system is less accurate than that of other states, which commonly have things centralized under county election clerks. There are advantages to each system, he says. The county system is “more professional,” and the municipal system is “closer to the people.”

I still have a high degree of confidence in the state’s election system. For all the complaints of Republicans about the 2004 presidential race, an investigation by Republican-appointed U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic found no evidence of a conspiracy and a measly few examples of voter fraud, mostly by ex-cons who can’t legally vote. For all the GOP complaints about the 2008 presidential election, Republican Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen investigated and found about 20 potentially fraudulent ballots of some 3 million votes. (To judge by the 2004 investigation, many cases will ultimately lack enough proof for prosecution.) That’s an amazingly clean system.

Yet Sykes and some Republicans continue to insist, with no evidence, there is a problem with our elections. Ironically, that opens the door to Democrats to cry foul. Both sides are undermining the public’s confidence in the electoral system and opening the door to more overhyped complaints.

For that reason, I hope Kloppenburg does ask for a recount. Not because it’s likely to change things – the odds against making up a 6,700 vote difference are quite high – but because it might help restore our faith in the system.

Prosser has suggested a recount would be “hand-to-hand combat.” That might be true if the margin was a couple hundred votes. But assuming the Waukesha results stand, small changes in the vote from precinct to precinct won’t be worth much argument. 

A recount, with a thorough check of all the results by the state, with experts hired by both Kloppenburg and Prosser looking on, will help restore the public’s confidence in the validity of this election, and the accuracy and fairness of the state’s election system. Whatever your political leanings, that’s a goal worth embracing.

CEO Pay Still Climbing

The New York Times annual story updating the pay of America’s top 200 CEOs finds that “at a time when millions of Americans are trying to hang on to homes and millions more are trying to hang on to jobs,” the compensation of top CEOs has risen yet again. It rose by 12 percent in 2010, bringing average CEO compensation to $9.6 million.

Among the top 200 were three local execs: Stephen Roell of Johnson Controls saw his total compensation raise by 138 percent in 2010 to a lordly $15.2 million. Manpower CEO Jeffrey Joerres got a 63 percent raise, jumping to $8.7 million. And Kohl’s CEO Kevin Mansell saw his compensation drop by 26 percent to $6.7 million.

CEO pay has risen astronomically in the last three decades. CEOs typically hire compensation consultants paid by the company who decide if he/she deserves a raise. This is then approved by board members whose fees are also paid by the company. The not-surprising result: ever higher compensation.

I have sometimes heard from conservatives defending this kind of pay, which I don’t understand. Nor, apparently, does conservative columnist Cal Thomas, who last week called it “disheartening to see so many CEOs … pay themselves salaries and benefits that would have shamed the super-rich in America’s Gilded Age.” Thomas pronounces this a “moral issue.”

Uber-liberal filmmaker Michael Moore has proclaimed that 400 Americans make more money than half of all Americans combined (the figure was verified by PolitiFact). The explosion in CEO salaries has directly contributed to this trend.

Less directly, it has helped create a climate throughout the private, non-profit and even government sectors where it is OK to pay big money to the top dogs while stiffing everyone else. Take academia, where pay for university presidents was at one time not all that much higher than that of top professors. Today, as a recent story notes, the median pay for a public university president exceeds $440,000 while the average professor gets fewer than $66,000. The gap grows each year as presidents get much bigger raises than professors.

And, of course, in Wisconsin it has made it more acceptable to slash pay and benefits for average government workers, along with teachers and professors, something that some of the state’s millionaire business leaders have proclaimed an expeditious way to trim the state budget. The end result is lower pay for the middle class and a greater gap between their pay and that of the wealthiest Americans.

The Buzz

-One of those well-paid academic administrators is State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, much ballyhooed while she served here as the head of UW-Milwaukee, whose compensation was $689,600 in 2009-10.

-The new census and the retirement of two Milwaukee County Board members has raised the issue of reducing the size of the board. Conservative Joe Rice has said he’ll “start the bidding” at nine members. Nine, I’d agree, could handle the duties of board members while still providing adequate representation for citizens.

-The spending by Democrats on recalls suggests they don’t see Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling as a top target. In order, they are spending the most on senators Sheila Harsdorf, Robert Cowles, Randy Hopper and Luther Olsen.

-Speaking of salaries, the Sports Nut looks at Bucks salaries and concludes this: We wuz robbed!