David Michael Miller
Karen McKim is running for Dane County Clerk because she thinks the county’s current auditing systems are dramatically subpar. That’s her primary issue, it is the first thing she brings up in every interview, in every post on Facebook. Even the lead image on her campaign’s website crosses out “County” and replaces it with “Counting,” yet another reference to auditing.
If McKim has a second issue, it is that she really, really, really doesn’t like current Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell.
Karen McKim is the public face of a citizens’ group known as the Wisconsin Election Integrity Action Team. Except, instead of focusing on elections across the state of Wisconsin, McKim’s blog posts zero in on one guy, Scott McDonell. All eight of the most recent blog posts mention Dane County elections specifically. In a state of 72 counties, she has decided to turn her organization into a personal crusade on this county and this clerk alone.
To a certain extent, I can understand the laser-like focus on Dane County. People in here do seem to care about good government. McKim’s Wisconsin Election Integrity Action Team believes that Dane County can be a model of election integrity that other counties can follow. However, I’m highly skeptical that Waukesha or Ozaukee County officials are going to ever say, “Ooh, let’s do what Dane County is doing!”
Even though I question her organization’s tactics, I still believe campaigning for increased auditing is a worthy issue. Elections technology has changed dramatically, opening up new opportunities for fraud. I also think McDonell has been dismissive of McKim’s concerns. McKim is an experienced bureaucrat with decades of experience and a healthy number of supporters; her concerns deserve a hearing.
But my concern with McKim, and with single-issue candidates in general, is that we don’t live in a single-issue world.
Imagine you could only pick one person to fix your car. (To those living on the near east side, imagine you could only pick one person to fix your bike.) You have a competent mechanic but admit that there are some things he or she could do better. A new mechanic comes along who says they’ll do a better job fixing your brakes. If you ask them about your transmission, your shocks, your battery, that crunching noise that comes on when you crank up the AC — they go back to talking about fixing your brakes.
Brakes are important, incredibly important, but they aren’t the only part of a car.
Election auditing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is one of many, many duties a county clerk has to perform. McDonell has had to juggle a number of issues in his single term as clerk.
We’ve seen the rollout of new voting machines, complete with easily auditable paper ballots. The county clerk’s office had to inform poll workers and voters about the machine, and McDonell’s office found innovative and funny ways to do it. McDonell even pulled a Tarantino and cast himself in a starring role aside Chad Vader.
Then there’s the court saga of voter ID, training and retraining poll workers on election standards that have changed almost every election. After seeing the long lines at colleges such as Marquette University and UW-Green Bay during this spring’s presidential primary, the relatively smooth and fast-moving lines at UW-Madison showed that local election officials here were better prepared than many elsewhere in the state.
Looking ahead to this election, McDonell has worked with local municipalities to ensure early voting hours in almost every municipality in Dane County. Even more promising is McDonell’s successful push to get UW-Madison to issue paper IDs at polling places on Election Day. While both are important issues, making sure no eligible voter is turned away from the polls is of greater importance to me than increased auditing.
The Dane County clerk has been involved in more than just elections. In less than four years, marriage equality moved from something that was banned by the state constitution to something that is now taken for granted. I’m glad marriage equality has so quickly become the norm, but it wasn’t long ago that issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples earned McDonell veiled threats from then-Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.
McKim is right on her issue; the county clerk should audit more machines across the county. But thus far she has failed to make a strong case on other issues as to why she’d be a better clerk than McDonell. In the next month, she’s got to move beyond auditing if voters are to seriously consider putting her in office.