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Supreme Court recount to cost $500K or more (UPDATE)

Donna Deuster, the assistant city clerk in Racine, verifies security tags on sealed bags of ballots cast in the city on April 6. (AP Photo/Journal Times, Mark Hertzberg)

Donna Deuster, the assistant city clerk in Racine, verifies security tags on sealed bags of ballots cast in the city on April 6. Clerks in all 72 of the state's counties estimated their costs for a recount at at least $500,000. (AP Photo/Journal Times, Mark Hertzberg)

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court recount will cost at least $500,000, as county election officials feel their way through the third statewide recount in Wisconsin history, an Associated Press survey of clerks found.

The AP asked clerks in all 72 counties how much it would cost to do the recount beginning Wednesday in the race between incumbent Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. Of the 33 counties that responded, 23 provided cost estimates ranging from $120 in Price County to $500,000 in Milwaukee County. That money would go toward paying canvassers and covering overtime costs for clerk staff members.

The total cost for the 23 counties was about $575,000, but that is a tally from less than a third of all counties.

Vernon County Clerk Ron Hoff estimated it would take him five days and about $2,000 to recount around 8,000 votes, including those in the city of Viroqua by hand.

“It’s a headache,” he said. “How do we get the rest of our work done? It makes you wonder if it’s necessary.”

The recount marks the first statewide recount since a 1989 referendum on a constitutional property tax amendment. The only other statewide recount in Wisconsin came as part of the governor’s race in 1858.

Kloppenburg went into the race as a long shot against Prosser, a 12-year court veteran and a former Republican legislator. But her campaign surged after her supporters worked to link Prosser to GOP Gov. Scott Walker and his contentious collective bargaining law.

The measure strips most public workers of nearly all their union rights. The law is currently on hold pending a court challenge, but its opponents hoped a Kloppenburg victory would turn the Supreme Court to the left, setting the justices up to strike the provision down for good.

Kloppenburg declared herself the winner after initial returns from the April 5 election showed she had upset Prosser by just 200 votes. A day later, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, who worked for Prosser when he was in the Legislature, announced she had failed to report 14,000 votes, flipping the election for Prosser. Final county tallies show Prosser with a 7,316-vote lead.

State law permits Kloppenburg to seek a recount at local governments’ expense because the margin between the candidates was less than one-half of 1 percent of the 1.5 million votes cast.

Prosser’s campaign pressured Kloppenburg to admit defeat, warning a recount would be expensive and probably change nothing. But Kloppenburg asked for one anyway last week, citing what she called “widespread anomalies,” including under-voting, long lines at polls, allegations of photocopied ballots and Nickolaus’ revelation.

Kloppenburg hasn’t directly addressed questions about whether she thinks she can overcome 7,300 votes, instead saying state law grants her the right to a recount and she wants to shed light on the election.

“We’ll see what that process reveals,” her campaign manager, Melissa Mulliken, said.

State law requires the recount to be done by May 9, but state election officials may seek an extension if the recount progresses slowly.

Last week a judge ordered county officials to conduct hand recounts in wards across 31 counties, including Milwaukee and Dane counties, the state’s two largest population centers. State election officials had asked to erase full memory cartridges on voting machines in those wards so they could be used again in the recount, but the judge didn’t want to destroy the data and ordered the hand count instead.

Now clerks are bracing for long days of squinting and shuffling papers. Counters also will have to contend with representatives from the campaigns, who can challenge any ballot they wish. That means the local board of canvassers will have to review that ballot and rule on its authenticity.

“Our intent is to preserve the results of this election,” Prosser campaign manager Brian Nemoir said.
About two dozen clerks provided time estimates for completion to the AP ranging from a day in smaller counties such as Iron, Price and Rusk to about two weeks in Kenosha County.

Lisa Catlin Weiner, the head of the Milwaukee County Election Commission, said the judge’s hand-count order extends to every ward in the city of Milwaukee. It could take seven straight days to finish the county, she said.

Dane County Clerk Karen Peters and her staff will have to recount about 182,000 votes by hand. Her office estimates the work could cost about $3,000 and take about two weeks.

“I imagine,” she said, “the first few days will be kind of like a circus.”

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