By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin board that certifies elections declared Monday that a recount had confirmed state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser defeated challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg in the hard-fought April 5 election many saw as a referendum on polarizing union rights legislation.
The board said Prosser won by 7,004 votes after Kloppenburg picked up 312 in the monthlong recount she requested.
Conservative supporters of Republican Gov. Scott Walker had largely backed Prosser in the hopes he would be supportive of the bill eliminating most of public workers’ collective bargaining rights while opponents of the proposal lined up behind Kloppenburg, hoping she would vote to overturn it if she won election.
Prosser is generally seen as one of four conservative justices on the seven-member court, although both he and Kloppenburg insisted during the race for the officially nonpartisan position that they were impartial.
Barring court intervention, Prosser’s 10-year term will begin in August. If results of the election are held up in court, there could temporarily be a vacancy on the court leaving it with just six sitting members.
The collective bargaining law has been put on hold by a Dane County circuit court judge pending a legal challenge. The Supreme Court is also considering whether to take the case. If it takes it up after August, and the fight over Prosser’s victory is not resolved, the court may be left with just six members, raising the possibility of a deadlock.
Kloppenburg has until May 31 to challenge the results in court. Her campaign has said they are reviewing the results and determining what to do next. Prosser’s campaign has said there is no basis for a challenge and it’s time to move on.
Prosser issued a statement after the certification of the recount Monday, thanking election officials and those who voted for him.
“I am grateful that the final results of the April 5th election have been confirmed today,” Prosser said in the statement. “I look forward to taking the oath of office and continuing to serve in a fair and independent manner as a member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”
Certification of the vote Monday by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board was devoid of drama.
Board chairman Thomas Barland simply signed the official results of the 72-county recount that showed Prosser with 752,694 votes compared with 745,690 for Kloppenburg. Prosser’s margin of victory was just 0.46 percent.
Barland said it wasn’t surprising that mistakes were discovered during the recount, but the relatively small number of votes that changed shows the election was conducted well.
The recount started April 27 and ended Friday.
Kloppenburg, a little-known assistant attorney general, started the race as the heavy underdog against Prosser, who has been on the court 12 years and is a former Republican speaker of the state Assembly.
But Kloppenburg backers rallied supporters for her campaign behind opposition to Walker’s collective bargaining bill, linking him to the conservative Prosser and largely transforming the race into a referendum on the new governor and his policies.
Initial election returns showed Kloppenburg with a narrow victory of about 200 votes, leading her to declare herself the winner the day after the election. But the next day, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced she had failed to report 14,000 votes. The new votes gave Prosser a 7,316-vote lead.
Waukesha County was the last to complete the recount on Friday, two weeks after the other counties were done.
An Associated Press survey of Wisconsin counties found the recount cost them at least $261,000. The final figures almost certainly will be much higher. Dane and Milwaukee counties, the state’s most populous counties, as well as Waukesha County are still compiling their costs.
If Kloppenburg challenges the election results, Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson would name a reserve judge to hear the case.
An appeal of that judge’s decision would go to the state appeals court based in Madison. An appeal of that would go to the Supreme Court. If the court deadlocked 3-3, the lower court’s ruling would stand.