By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A judge gave Waukesha County nearly three more weeks to complete its recount in the state Supreme Court race, saying Monday that he would sacrifice speed for confidence in the county’s results.
Wisconsin counties had until Monday to complete their recounts. State elections officials said all the counties had finished by mid-afternoon except Waukesha. The county’s attorney, Tom Farley, said tabulators there had completed only about a third of their work by early Monday morning.
He told Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess that tabulators have been moving extremely carefully and documenting even the smallest anomalies. County officials want precise, transparent accounting after the county clerk failed to report 14,000 votes that flipped the race from challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg to incumbent Justice David Prosser, he said.
“We seem to be the focus of this maelstrom,” Farley told the judge. “All the ‘Is’ are being dotted and all the ‘Ts’ are being crossed.”
Niess gave the county until May 26 to finish. He said county officials were moving slowly, but the pace should ensure public confidence in the totals.
“They’re not shirking. They’re not dilly-dallying over there,” Niess said.
Kloppenburg, a state attorney, entered the race as a political unknown and faced long odds against Prosser. But she got a late boost after her supporters worked to link the conservative Prosser to Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his divisive proposal to strip most public workers of nearly all their union rights.
Initial results from the April 5 election showed Kloppenburg defeated Prosser by about 200 votes. But a day after Kloppenburg declared victory, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced she had forgotten to report 14,000 votes from the city of Brookfield.
The new votes turned the election in Prosser’s favor. Final tallies showed him with a 7,316-vote lead.
The margin was less than one-half of 1 percent of the total votes cast, entitling Kloppenburg to a recount at local governments’ expense. Prosser’s campaign complained a recount would be costly and change nothing.
Kloppenburg demanded one anyway, saying she wanted to shine light on the election process and ensure every vote was counted.
Nickolaus worked for Prosser when he was a Republican legislator in the 1990s. She recused herself from overseeing the county’s recount a day before it began to avoid any appearance of a conflict. County Executive Dan Vrakas appointed Robert Mawdsley, a retired judge, to run the recount in her place.
Daniel Kelly, an attorney for Prosser’s campaign, told Niess on Monday the county must move faster. Delays in the recount’s final results would leave little time to resolve potential appeals before Prosser’s term ends Aug. 1. That means his seat could end up vacant while the campaigns fight it out in court, he warned.
County officials keep stopping to record even the tiniest anomalies, including issues the campaigns don’t dispute, Kelly said. The county should record only disputed problems and start counting multiple precincts at once, he said.
“We need to reach a resolution here and there’s no point in dragging it out,” Kelly said outside court.
Kloppenburg’s attorney, Susan Crawford, countered Waukesha County has seen myriad problems, including unsealed ballot bags, that must be noted. She urged the judge to stay out of the mechanics of the recount and let state and county election officials handle it as they see fit.
Farley told the judge county officials planned to move to a larger room Monday, allowing them to bring in more tabulators and count two precincts at once.
Niess said he would allow Mawdsley continue to run the recount as he saw fit.
According to the latest information posted on the state Government Accountability Board’s website Monday evening, Kloppenburg held a 33,638-vote lead, but that was with much of Waukesha County’s vote still not recounted.
Kloppenburg told reporters after the court hearing the recount is worth the effort.
“It is better to establish a complete record,” she said, “so all issues are addressed in a transparent way.”