By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is on track to lead challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg by about 7,300 votes after all counties finish verifying the ballots cast in last week’s election — a margin that would be difficult to overcome even with a statewide recount.
As of Monday, 69 of the state’s 72 counties had finished verifying the vote totals from last week’s election and reported them to the Government Accountability Board. The last and largest county — Milwaukee — likely won’t be finished with its work until Wednesday at the earliest, according to the GAB. Votes from Crawford and Sauk counties also have not been submitted yet.
Adding in the unofficial results as reported on election night from the four outstanding counties, Prosser would finish with 7,303 more votes than Kloppenburg out of nearly 1.5 million cast.
Kloppenburg declared victory the day after the election, based on unofficial results that showed her with a razor-thin 204-vote lead. But the very next day, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said she had failed to report more than 14,000 votes, which flipped the outcome of the race in Prosser’s favor by about 7,500.
That mistake was found in the process of Waukesha County verifying its vote totals, something all 72 counties must do by Friday. Once the last county submits its report, candidates have three business days to ask for a recount.
Both Kloppenburg and Prosser have been preparing for that possibility, including raising money.
Kloppenburg campaign manager Melissa Mulliken refused to say Monday whether a recount would be sought or how quickly it would be asked for within the three-day window.
“The process is ongoing,” she said. “We’re trying to gather the information we think we need to take a look at it.”
Prosser said Friday it would be like “hand-to-hand combat” for Kloppenburg to somehow find the votes needed to overcome his lead, but he’s not declaring victory yet.
The more counties report their totals, the clearer Prosser’s victory becomes, his campaign manager Brian Nemoir said Monday.
Kloppenburg could seek a partial recount, targeting specific parts of the state like Waukesha County in the hopes of bridging the gap. Numerous Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, have called for investigations into what happened in that county to result in such a high number of votes not being reported in a timely fashion.
The Supreme Court race is officially nonpartisan, but this contest was largely seen as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans in the wake of passage of a bill they backed stripping public workers of most collective bargaining rights.
Prosser is a former Republican Assembly speaker and his campaign had initially attempted to tie itself to Walker. Supporters of Kloppenburg, an assistant attorney general, tried to equate a vote for Prosser with a show of support for Walker.
The winner gets a 10-year term on the Supreme Court.