Crawford County in Southwest Wisconsin has voted Democrat in all the recent elections (Obama in 08, Barrett in 2010, Kloppenburg in the Supreme Court election, Shilling in the Senate Recall) That is, at least, until the June 5 Recall Election when it went for Walker by 10 votes. Like George the monkey and the man with the yellow hat – I was curious. There is nothing more dangerous than a monkey or a retired man with time on his hands than good old curiosity.
The county showed a 71% turnout and I was curious enough to drive the 20 miles to the County Clerk’s Office in Prairie du Chein to get a closer, more detailed look at the voter stats for the June 5 election. I helped myself to one of the cellophane wrapped hard candies on the counter and chose butterscotch over the yellow lemon offering, and lodged it against my cheek as I spoke to County Clerk Janet Geisler. Knowing that state law requires election materials to be held in the office for 21 day after the election I said, “The election materials are all here in the office, aren’t they?”. She said that all of the votes and paper records were there but the cartridges were sent back. I nearly choked on my lozenge. (The cartridges contain the software programing that tallies the digital count of votes on election day, which is the official tabulated count for each ward) “You mean the cartridges are not here?” Janet said no they were not there. They had been sent back to Command Central.
Command Central? I imagined some place like Fort McCoy where you go to a booth and present a pass to enter a compound grid of barracks, bullets, and soldiers in flight suites operating drones in flight over the terrain in Afghanistan. It turns out that Command Central is the corporation that sells voting machines and election software to counties and it is located in a strip mall just outside of St. Cloud Minnesota. So, the cartridges holding the official vote of everyone who voted on a machine in Crawford County were not in the County, they were not even in the State, they were in some office near St. Cloud, Minnesota? Janet who is as quietly focused as any librarian or prayerful minister, went on to explain that in previous elections the cartridges had been sent back via registered mail which cost the county $40, and this “Command Central” offered to take them back and “store” them until the 21 days the statutes require for citizen viewing had expired. Oh. So, if there was a recount the cartridges would be conveniently available in a strip mall some 300 miles away. This breach of custody and security all for the sake of saving $40? I was more curious.
Having finished my butterscotch lozenge, I picked another. This time the lemon offering I had rejected earlier. Lemon indeed. I walked the 20 feet to the office door with the sudden realization that it was the same distance as the secret email network from Chief Executives Office in Milwaukee, and I looked on the wall to see the portrait of a man in a suit that was the same white color as his hair who seemed to be saying, “What are you going to do?”
I drove back, this time choosing the Great River Road along the Mississippi River, which I can never travel without thinking of Mark Twain, white washed picket fences, gray haired men in white suits. I decided, right there between Linksville and Prairie that I would “do something”. I would file one of those freedom of information letters and get those Command Central cartridges returned to County Seat.
Next day I drove back to Prairie with letter in hand, chose a butterscotch hard candy, and presented my letter to Janet who replied, “Do you mean you expect us to get these cartridges back?”. I moved my lozenge from right cheek to left and responded with an appropriate quote from Fighting “Bob” La Follette, “It is a never ending struggle to make and keep the government representative”. To which Janet explained that she would present the letter to the Corporate Attorney, but that she would be out of the office for the next few days for the County Clerks Meeting in Sheboygen. Of course, the meeting she would not miss would bring County Clerks across the State in contact with the representatives of Command Central with dishes full to the brim with butterscotch, lemon and every other confection of the dreams of a child in easy reach.
I walked through 20 feet of denial to the door, and I swear the man in the portrait with the white suit smiled at me.