The state's investigation into vote irregularities in Waukesha County will stretch back at least five years, the head of the Government Accountability Board said Thursday.

Questions over vote totals in Waukesha have lingered over the past week after County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced she failed to report more than 14,000 votes from the city of Brookfield in initial vote totals.

The new total gave incumbent Supreme Court Justice David Prosser a lead of about 7,000 votes over challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg in the hotly contested state Supreme Court race. Official results in that race have not yet been announced.

Now questions have emerged over Nickolaus' published vote counts from as far back as the fall of 2006, when there were key statewide elections including races for governor and attorney general.

"This is part of what we're looking into. We have a lot of complaints," said Kevin Kennedy, the director and general counsel for GAB. "It's part of our investigation."

Kennedy said the board's current priority is determining the integrity of numbers reported in this spring's election but added investigators are reviewing broader questions about Nickolaus and vote counting.

GAB staff members have been in Waukesha County much of the week, and they were there again Thursday, staff attorney Mike Haas said.

‘Hand-entered results'

Additional questions surfaced after bloggers raised questions and Nickolaus posted a note to the clerk's website this week explaining discrepancies between the total ballots cast in several elections and the votes for particular offices.

In many cases, the number of votes totaled more than the number of ballots cast.

The results for the 2006 attorney general's race, for example, show 174,047 votes for either Democrat Kathleen Falk, Republican J.B. Van Hollen or write-in candidates, a total that is 17,243 votes higher than the total ballots cast recorded elsewhere in the results.

In her note, Nickolaus said the reference to ballots cast "is the number of ballots that were fed through the election machines at the polling places and the results were collected using a modem in the office" but does not include "any hand-entered results."

It was unclear what Nickolaus meant by "hand-entered results," and she was unavailable for comment Wednesday and Thursday.

Democrats seek answers

Calls for investigations into Waukesha County's vote count controversy have grown. Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said in a letter to Kennedy on Wednesday that "these apparent repeated problems from the Waukesha County clerk undermine the public's confidence in elections."

Also Wednesday, a group of Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter urging joint Assembly-Senate hearings to investigate the results and conduct of election officials in Waukesha County. Others, including U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the matter.

Haas said investigators have spoken with Nickolaus and want to make sure "we understand her explanation."


Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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