The first statewide recount since 1858 for a Wisconsin elected office began Wednesday morning in 70 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. The election for Wisconsin Supreme Court justice was held on April 5th, 2011. JoAnne Kloppenburg trailed the sitting justice, David Prosser, by 7,316 votes after the first official canvass was completed. Kloppenburg requested a recount for a number of reasons, including the need to answer nagging questions about the vote tallying process in Waukesha County.
Looks like Waukesha did not disappoint those who predicted shenanigans. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
After more than a half-hour of meticulous instructions and ground rules relayed by Waukesha County's chief canvasser, retired Judge Robert G. Mawdsley, questions were raised about the very first bag of ballots to be counted, from the Town of Brookfield.
As canvassers and tabulators compared a numbered seal on a bag with the number recorded for that bag by a town election inspector who prepared the paperwork on election night, the numbers didn't match.
"What a great way to start," one official tabulator said.
Observers from the campaigns of Justice David Prosser and JoAnne Kloppenburg both agreed, however, that the error seemed to be in the inspector's use of a "2" instead of a "3." Numbers on the sealing tag and on the bag did match. Both sides and the Board of Canvassers agreed that the bag should be opened and the votes counted.
Each county has a three-person board of canvassers to oversee the recounting of ballots. In most counties, the canvass board is made up of the same three people who certified the original election results. That is not true in Waukesha County, where County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus recused herself from the board of canvassers.
Nickolaus has come under intense scrutiny from the public, the media, and Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB) since her revelation on April 7th, two days after the election, that she had not included over 14,000 votes from the city of Brookfield in her election-night totals. Those votes gave the lead to Prosser, who had been trailing. Kloppenburg had already declared victory with a 204 vote lead. Nickolaus is still participating in the Waukesha recount in her role as County Clerk, but she was replaced on the canvassing board by retired Circuit Court Judge Robert Mawdsley.
Delays in beginning the recount were reported from Chippewa and Menominee counties.
Chippewa County Clerk Sandi Frion said "We have officially got our new memory cards and are prepared to start the recount tomorrow morning."
Menominee County Clerk Ruth Waupoose reported: "I was unable to begin the canvass today because I had to go over to the School District and get the election material. We will begin the canvass 9:00 a.m. April 28, 2011."
Both counties have relatively small populations and should have no trouble completing their recounts by the official deadline of May 9th.
Dane County Clerk Karen Peters has already expressed doubt that Dane County’s board of canvassers will be able to meet the deadline, even though they plan to work 12 hours a day. Dane County, which includes Madison, experienced dramatically high voter turnout in the April 5th election. It’s very likely that a number of counties will need a court-approved extension of the deadline. Milwaukee County, Wisconsin’s most populated county, was the last to certify their original results from the election and will almost certainly need time beyond May 9th to complete their recount.
The estimate from local officials about the cost of the recount vary, but the grand total is reportedly going to be over half a million dollars. Because of the narrow margin in the original results, the Kloppenburg campaign will not have to reimburse local governments for those costs. Keep in mind, however, that estimating those costs is very difficult. Much of the cost is in labor for municipal employees which would have been paid anyway.
I’m a bit surprised that the standard Wisconsin estimate of 7.5 million dollars was not used. That was the estimated cost of capitol building cleanup given by the Republican head of the Wisconsin Department of Administration after weeks of protests in Madison. Turns out all it took was a couple hours with a broom, a mop, and a bottle of Goo-Gone.
Kloppenburg was considered to be no competition for Prosser when the campaign began, but she gained exposure and support from labor unions and others after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker called a special session of the state legislature and introduced a union-busting bill disguised as a budget repair bill. The threat of the bill being rammed through with no debate motivated hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens to protest and take other political actions, including endorsing and campaigning for Joanne Kloppenburg.
Walker’s union-busting bill, minus some fiscal language, was eventually passed but is not in effect pending lower court challenges. It is assumed by most that challenges to the bill, which would effectively eliminate most public employee unions, will eventually end up in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and that Justice Prosser will side with Walker if Prosser is still on the bench. Prosser and Walker are known to be long-time political allies going back to when they both served in the legislature.