By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The recount in the state Supreme Court race will begin Wednesday and, barring a court-ordered extension, must be finished by May 9.
Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Board discussed the recount procedure Monday with local election officials from nearly all 72 counties. Given the rarity of a statewide recount, clerks on the conference call peppered board attorneys with questions about everything from what to do about challenged ballots to what to do with observers seen holding pens that could alter a vote.
Challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg asked for the recount after results showed she lost to incumbent Justice David Prosser by 7,316 votes, roughly one-half of 1 percent of the 1.5 million votes cast in the April 5 election. The recount is the first in a race involving candidates since 1858. The only other one, in 1989, involved a referendum.
Kloppenburg said last week when she asked for the recount that she hoped to shine light on how the election was conducted. Prosser’s campaign has been pressuring her to give up, saying the margin was too large to overcome.
The cost of the recount will be borne by local governments, not the state or the campaigns. It will be done in all counties simultaneously, although smaller counties and those that don’t have to do any of the recounting by hand will likely finish sooner than others. Staff with the GAB urged canvass board members and election clerks to work through the weekends to meet the May 9 deadline under the law.
Kloppenburg and Prosser’s campaigns agreed to a hand recount in precincts across 31 counties where electronic voting machines’ memory cartridges are full.
If it appears by the middle of next week that some counties may not be able to meet the deadline, the board may go back to court and ask for an extension, GAB director Kevin Kennedy said.
All of the recounts will be open to the public. Representatives of both candidates are expected to be present in every county, the clerks were told Monday.
Board attorney Mike Haas told clerks that the designated representatives of the candidates may look at the ballots, but they can’t touch them. Anyone taking out or attempting to use a pen on a ballot should be stopped, Haas said.
Any ballot that’s objected to will have to be brought to the county’s canvassing board, which will decide whether to count it or not, perhaps in consultation with the GAB, Kennedy said.
Board attorneys stressed to the county clerks that they must strictly follow the state guidelines for a recount to ensure transparency and consistency in the process.
Kloppenburg went into the campaign as a heavy underdog against Prosser, a 12-year court veteran and former Republican legislator. But she got a boost after her supporters and pro-labor groups worked to tie Prosser to Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his polarizing proposal to strip nearly all public workers of most of their collective bargaining rights.
That law remains in limbo in court and Kloppenburg backers hoped a victory by her would tilt the ideological balance of the Supreme Court and possibly lead to the collective bargaining law being rejected.
A recount in the Supreme Court race seemed inevitable when initial returns showed Kloppenburg with a narrow win over Prosser by about just 200 votes. But two days after the election the Waukesha County clerk said she failed to initially report 14,000 votes, the results of which gave Prosser the roughly 7,300-vote lead.