MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg on Wednesday requested a recount in her apparently unsuccessful attempt to unseat Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser.
Uncertified returns showed Prosser 7,316 votes ahead, 752,323 to 745,007, in a race that could determine the swing vote if the state Supreme Court is asked to rule on the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s controversial anti-union bill.
Kloppenburg was leading by the thinnest of margins until the county clerk in suburban, and heavily Republican, Waukesha County announced that she had forgotten to record 14,000 votes – which threw the election to Prosser.
Prosser’s campaign headquarters is in Waukesha County.
In unofficial results Wednesday, Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board showed Prosser ahead by less than one-half of 1 percent of the total vote.
Prosser is a member of the court’s 4-3 Republican majority. Kloppenburg, a Democrat, could have tipped the bench.
The race for the Supreme Court seat is nominally nonpartisan, though the two candidates generally reflected the views of the major parties.
Prosser promised in 2010 “to act as ‘complement’ to [Gov. Scott] Walker,” whose anti-union bill, and the legislative tricks used to enact it, set off a political furor in Wisconsin.
Prosser was considered a shoo-in to win a second 10-year term until Walker and his Republican legislative majority pushed through the so-called Budget Repair Bill in a special session, without a quorum, then published it in defiance of a judge’s order.
The resulting political bloodbath energized Democrats and public workers. Wednesday was the deadline for Kloppenburg to request a recount.
Kloppenburg said in a statement that she did not “make this decision lightly.”
“Wisconsin residents must have full confidence that these election results are legitimate and that this election was fair,” Kloppenburg said. “A recount will establish where votes were incorrectly tabulated and expose if irregularities compromised the electoral process. A recount may change the outcome of this election or it may confirm it. But when it is done, a recount will have shone necessary and appropriate light on an election which, right now, seems to many people, suspect.”
Kloppenburg will not have to pay for the recount because state law provides that a recount petition involving a margin of 0.5 percent or less does not require a filing fee.
Furor over the anti-union law has prompted four recall petitions to be filed against Republican state senators. Recall efforts are also under way against four other Republican state senators and eight Democrats. The recall petitions must be filed with the Government Accountability Board.
Prosser, who appeared to support a recount until the 14,000 votes turned up, appears to have changed his tune.
In his victory speech, he said, “Now that all 72 counties have completed their canvasses, the result is not in doubt.”
Prosser’s attorney told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “We will take every and any step to prevent this frivolous matter going forward.”
Not surprisingly, Gov. Walker agreed, saying, “Statistically, I think you look here and across the country, it hasn’t happened with a recall margin of this before so it’s highly unlikely that it would do anything to change the outcome. … The cost of it will likely frustrate a lot of Wisconsin taxpayers.”
Kloppenburg claimed, or feigned, “surprise” at Prosser’s statement: “My opponent, his political advisers and lawyers don’t want a recount. That surprises me,” she said.
“A recount benefits everyone involved in this election, voters who voted for David Prosser and voters who voted for me. It benefits the larger, common good and the greater interest beyond our campaigns. State law makes provisions for a recount when elections are this close. Justice Prosser’s representatives have called efforts to clear up questions about this election a ‘drama’ and a ‘circus.’ Actually, it’s called American democracy.”
In her letter to the Government Accountability Board, Kloppenburg also asked that a special investigator be appointed “to professionally, thoroughly and completely investigate the actions and conduct of the Waukesha County Clerk.”