It’s the first rule of journalism: Check the facts and then check them again. So how did the national liberal blog Daily Kos and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel both get it so wrong? Both news outlets published stories that attempted to raise doubts about Waukesha County’s votes in the April 5 election based on past election results that are posted on the Waukesha County Clerk website. The results showed more votes than ballots cast in past races
What the blog and newspaper failed to tell readers was that the reason for the gap was widely known at the time it occurred – and had nothing to do with failings by Kathy Nickolas or nefariousness that would call the races into question.
Indeed, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel itself explained the discrepancy back in 2006. The problem occurred because two Waukesha County communities used new voting machines that year that resulted in the two towns inability to report all votes electronically. Although there was frustration with slow returns as a result, the election results weren’t questioned, and did get completely reported to the state. The Daily Kos’ “big gap” is a complete non-story, and the Journal Sentinel, missed basic journalism 101 (looking up its own archives) by covering it as such.
Although several elections were part of the criticism, the Journal Sentinel and Daily Kos focused on the 2006 fall election, when Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen defeated Democrat Kathleen Falk by less than 10,000 votes statewide.
In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, Nickolaus explained that the reporting gap between ballots cast and votes resulted because not all votes were sent electronically. The results for ballots cast did not include votes not electronically sent (although all votes were included in final tallies given to the state). After being asked about the situation, Nickolaus added asterisks to the ballots cast results on the website for several past races to indicate they did not include the ballots that were not electronically sent.
However, those ballots WERE counted in the final tallies sent to state elections officials. The Journal Sentinel’s own reporting proves that- had the reporter bothered to look in the newspaper’s own archives, rather than just regurgitating claims from a prominent liberal blog. Furthermore, the newspaper’s old reporting shows there was nothing nefariousness about the fact that some votes were not electronically sent to Nickolaus. And the fact they weren’t was not her fault.
In September 2006, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Scott Williams reported that the 2006 election saw some confusion because some communities were using new voting machines. In addition, the City of Waukesha reported returns to Nickolaus’ office in the wrong column, which her staff then had to correct. The problem derived from a municipality, not Nickolaus’ office. She fixed the problem.
The Journal Sentinel reported that the new technology- touch screen voting machines – caused divisions in the county because different municipalities used different machines. Menomonee Falls and Mukwonago used a different brand of equipment than others in the county that resulted in a problem of reporting their results electronically.
Furthermore, that year the county reported its results later than normal, but the newspaper attributed that delay to the Menomonee Falls and Mukwonago situations – as well as to the City of Waukesha’s reporting mistake – not to Nickolaus (yet the delays and other glitches that occurred in that race are now being attributed by some bloggers to Nickolaus.)
In fact, the story notes that Nickolaus warned communities that problems might occur if they didn’t all use the same type of voting machines. But one municipal clerk was quoted saying, “I was not going to let anybody tell me what equipment I was going to buy.”
Despite all archived facts, the Daily Kos, one of the most biased and prominent liberal blogs in the country, still ran this story, even demanding that the Department of Justice investigate. The Journal Sentinel attacked Van Hollen, tying him to Gov. Scott Walker, and implying that the election might have been rigged in Van Hollen’s favor.
Wisconsin liberal blogs picked up the narrative, perpetuating the story, and for some reason the Journal Sentinel highlighted it all. For no reason and with complete disregard to the facts.