MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – The race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court was upended Thursday when a county clerk said she had accidentally neglected to record 14,000 votes in a heavily Republican county. The votes apparently throw the election to incumbent Justice David Prosser, a member of the court’s 4-3 Republican majority, which is expected to decide the fate of the state’s controversial anti-union law.
Until late Thursday, Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg had been leading Prosser by 204 votes, of more than 1.4 million cast. The 33 percent turnout was high for an off-year election, spurred by the controversy over the anti-union Act 10.
Although nominally a nonpartisan race, Kloppenburg was the Democrats’ candidate and Prosser was the Republicans’. The new tally gives Prosser a lead of 7,582 votes.
The late tally reported from the city of Brookfield gave 10,859 more votes to Prosser, and 3,456 to Kloppenburg.
In a tearful press conference Thursday evening, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said: “I discovered that the data that was sent to me from the City of Brookfield was not transferred to the final report that was given to the media on Tuesday night. The spreadsheet from Brookfield was imported into a database that was provided by the [Government Accountability Board] but it was inadvertently not saved. As a result, when I ran the report to show the aggregate numbers that were collected from all the municipalities, I assumed that the City of Brookfield was included and it was not.”
Nickolaus said she “noticed the discrepancy during the canvass” while she was using her Microsoft Access database.
She added: “I’m thankful that this error was caught early in the process and during the canvass. Again, the purpose of the canvass is to catch these types of errors. It is important to stress that this is not a case of extra votes or extra ballots being found. This is human error, which I apologize for, which is common in this process, which is why the state requires us to conduct a canvass.”
In response to questions about “voter fraud” and Nickolaus’ Republican affiliation, she said the canvass was “open” and “transparent,” with members of both parties present as the votes were counted “one by one.”
Nickolaus worked with the Assembly Republican caucus while Prosser was speaker of the Assembly.
It’s not the first time Nickolaus has raised eyebrows in Wisconsin.
Last year, county officials asked why she had stored election data off of the county’s computer network, storing it instead on computers in her office. Officials said that system could not be tested for failure; auditors told her to improve her “security and backup procedures,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Kloppenburg’s campaign manager expressed alarm and confusion Thursday night.
“Wisconsin voters as well as the Kloppenburg for Justice Campaign deserve a full explanation of how and why these 14,000 votes from an entire city were missed,” the campaign said in a statement. “
“To that end, we will be filing open records requests for all relevant documentation related to the reporting of election results in Waukesha County, as well as to the discovery and reporting of the errors announced by the county. We are confident that election officials in Waukesha County will fulfill these requests as quickly as possible so that both our campaign and the people of Wisconsin can fully understand what happened and why. Just as Assistant Attorney General Kloppenburg has run to restore confidence in the court, Wisconsin residents also deserve to have full confidence in election results.”