Software Delay Could Add $500K to Recount Cost in Milwaukee County
Racine and Waukesha counties also among those with outdated software that lacks memory to hold both original and recount votes.
A three-year delay in federal approval of updated ballot-counting software means the upcoming Supreme Court recount will cost Milwaukee County as much as $500,000 more than it would had the software been approved.
The county has had $200,000 in its budget to buy the new software since the purchase was approved in 2008, said Lisa Weiner, elections administrator for Milwaukee County.
“We have had to roll over the money for the past three years," Weiner said. "I’m not sure that we will be able to do it again if the software is not approved.”
All or parts of 31 of the state’s 72 counties use the same outdated software and are awaiting approval to purchase the same new system. Racine and Waukesha counties are also affected. The cost estimate is for Milwaukee County only and based on the expense of a normal election, but Weiner said the hand recount required for the City of Milwaukee and 14 suburbs could double the price.
In Milwaukee County, Bayside, Cudahy, Glendale, Greendale, St. Francis and Wauwatosa have systems that will allow for an electronic recount, Weiner said. Some of Oak Creek uses the old system as well.
Until this week, the matter has been a non-issue because the old software, according to Weiner, is 99% accurate.
Earlier this week, JoAnne Kloppenburg demanded a recount in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race. She challenged incumbent Justice David Prosser Jr. in the April 5 election. In the wee hours after the polls closed, Kloppenburg was ahead by some 200 votes. She lost the lead when Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced two days later that she failed to include 14,315 votes cast in the city of Brookfield. The new tally had Prosser winning by a 7,316. The margin was so close – less than a half one percent — that Kloppenburg has the statutory right to demand a recount, which she did.
That created a dilemma for the Government Accountability Board, the state agency that oversees elections. The new software was recently approved by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, said Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board. The software must now be approved by the GAB and that could take several months, Magney said.
The 31 counties use Optech Eagle tabulating equipment. While it still works well, according to Weiner, the system does not have enough memory to retain both the original vote and the recount. Additional memory cards are not available and not being made. State law requires that the memory cards not be erased while a recount is pending, so there is no place to electronically store the information on the recount.
The GAB went to court Thursday and asked for permission to erase the original data or that a hand count be ordered. A compromise was reached. Prosser, who saw no need for a recount, agreed to a hand recount in the 31 counties using the old software. Kloppenburg, who had the right to demand a hand recount in all 72 counties, agreed to waive that if the 31 were recounted by hand, the original data was maintained on the memory cards and the other parts of the state were recounted electronically.
Weiner said the delay in approving the purchase of the new system is not nefarious.
“The federal government has to test any new voting system and that takes time,” Weiner said. “As I understand it, the agency is very small and they don’t have much staff.”
The statewide recount, she noted, is the first in more than 30 years.
The recount is expected to begin Wednesday, said Weiner, who said she is not looking forward to it.
“On election night we had 20 people in our office,” Weiner said. “One of them was videotaping one of our workers because they said she looked suspicious. She didn’t come back the next day. We all had cameras in our faces all night and it was horrible.”
The clerks and the county executives of Waukesha and Racine counties were not immediately available.