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Supreme Court recount cost at $520,000-plus (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The recent recount in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race between Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg cost counties more than $500,000, an Associated Press survey found.

The AP queried election officials in all 72 counties, asking for their best cost estimates. Seventy counties reported spending a total of nearly $520,500. The actual cost was likely higher because two counties and the state didn’t provide estimates.

Waukesha County appears to have spent the most. It estimated its cost at $129,000, with more than a third of that going to pay a retired judge who oversaw the recount after the embattled county clerk recused herself.

Prosser was expected to walk away with the election, but Democrats managed to turn it into a referendum on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s polarizing law eliminating most public employees’ collective bargaining rights. Although the race was officially nonpartisan, they worked to tie Prosser, a former Republican lawmaker, to Walker.

Initial returns from the April 5 election showed Kloppenburg, a little-known state attorney, had upset Prosser by about 200 votes. Kloppenburg declared herself the winner, but two days later Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, who worked for Prosser when he was in the Legislature, announced she didn’t report 14,000 votes on election night. The new votes gave Prosser a 7,316-vote lead out of roughly 1.5 million votes cast.

Kloppenburg called for a recount, as is her right under state law. Prosser’s campaign pressured her not to do it, saying the margin was too big to overcome and it would just cost taxpayers money.

In the end, Kloppenburg gained only 312 votes. She conceded the race on May 31.

“I think it’s an expensive affirmation of the results of this election,” Prosser’s campaign manager, Brian Nemoir, said after being told of the counties’ spending total.

Kloppenburg’s campaign manager, Melissa Mulliken, said in a statement responding to the AP survey that the recount was worthwhile because the margin was so close. The recount also exposed “numerous and significant” issues with Wisconsin’s election process, including unsealed and torn ballot bags, bags that didn’t match inspectors’ reports, blank touchscreen voting machine records and problems reconciling poll books across the state, she said.

“There is the chance that future elections in Wisconsin … will be better run and more secure because of the lessons learned in this recount,” Mulliken said.

Reid Magney, spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board, said its employees are reviewing minutes from all 72 counties’ recounts. They’ve discovered a number of local issues, but he did not know if they’d uncovered any widespread problems. He also didn’t know how much the effort had cost the state.

Nickolaus’ admission focused the spotlight squarely on Waukesha County during the recount. She recused herself from the proceedings to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. County Executive Dan Vrakas appointed Robert Mawdsley, a retired judge, to oversee the effort in her place. County officials estimated they paid him $47,000 for his time.

Milwaukee County was the next biggest spender after Waukesha County at $94,000. Winnebago was third at $25,000. The county that spent the least was Florence at $200.

Racine and Adams counties did not provide cost estimates.

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