August 13, 2010- Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus' decision to go it alone in how she collects and maintains election results has some county officials raising a red flag about the integrity of the system.
Nickolaus said she decided to take the election data collection and storage system off the county's computer network – and keep it on stand-alone personal computers accessible only in her office – for security reasons.
"What it gave me was good security of the elections from start to finish, without the ability of someone unauthorized to be involved," she said.
Nonetheless, Director of Administration Norman A. Cummings said because Nickolaus has kept them out of the loop, the county's information technology specialists have not been able to verify Nickolaus' claim that the system is secure from failure.
"How does anybody else in the county know, except for her verbal word, that there are backups, and that the software she has out there is performing as it should?" he said. "There's no way I can assure that the election system is going to be fine for the next presidential election."
Cummings stressed that the voting process at local polling places is not in question. However, municipal clerks send their election night results by dial-up modem to the county clerk, where they are tabulated and stored. That prompted Cummings' concerns.
The County Board's Executive Committee is scheduled to step into the fray at its meeting Monday. The clerk's office is scheduled for a complete audit beginning in March 2011, but the County Board may seek an earlier look at the elections system, said Mark Mader, the board's chief of staff.
Mike Biagioli, the county's manager of information technology, sees risk in Nickolaus' action.
"What happens if something goes wrong on election night? We don't support her at all on election night. She was pretty clear about that. If something goes wrong, what do you do?" he said. "I would love to be able to go in and verify that everything is OK."
Nickolaus said that she has the statutory responsibility for elections "and it's my duty to make sure it's as secure as possible. The administration, IT (information technology), believes they should be able to get into it whenever they like. So whatever they decide, they make changes to the network and it affects my office."
Cummings said, "Nobody's trying to do her elections for her." He said, however, that he was troubled that Nickolaus talks about the computer equipment, software and data as if it is hers, although it was purchased with county funds.