Democrat Who Lost Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Will Seek Recount

April 21, 2011 - 6:40 AM

Kloppenburg

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg addresses her supporters in Madison, Wis., on Wednesday, April 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Madison, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Supreme Court challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg asked election officials Wednesday for a statewide recount in her flagging upset bid against Justice David Prosser, a race that marked yet another front in the fight over Republican Gov. Scott Walker's polarizing union rights law.

Final county tallies compiled last week showed Prosser held a 7,316-vote lead over the little-known state attorney. The margin is within one-half of 1 percent of the total votes cast, entitling Kloppenburg to a statewide recount at local governments' expense.

Kloppenburg said at a news conference that her campaign detected "widespread anomalies" in the election around the state. She didn't directly answer questions about whether she felt she could make up 7,000 votes, saying instead she wants to shine light on how the election was conducted.

"Wisconsin residents must have full confidence that these election results are legitimate and that this election was fair," Kloppenburg said.

State election officials said the recount would likely begin next week. They planned to file a request with a judge on Thursday seeking permission to clear voting machine memory cards so local clerks can start counting again.

Prosser's campaign has been pressuring Kloppenburg to give up, saying the margin is too great to overcome and a recount would cost taxpayers. His attorney has said he would challenge any recount request.

Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin elections, said he had no estimates for what the recount might cost local officials. Suzette Emmer, the deputy Administrator for the Milwaukee County Election Commission, says the commission estimates the recount would cost that county alone about $500,000.

"It may well take several weeks and it'll be an immense cost and it frankly begs the question of what the motive is," Prosser spokesman Brian Schimming said Wednesday. "Because there is no statistical, logical, evidence-based or even anecdotal reason to do this recount."

Kloppenburg went into the campaign as a heavy underdog against Prosser, a 12-year court veteran and former GOP legislator. But she got a boost after her supporters and pro-labor groups worked to tie Prosser to Walker and his contentious collective bargaining law, which strips public employees of nearly all their union rights and requires them to contribute more to their pensions and health care.

The law has been a flashpoint of controversy since Walker introduced it as a bill in mid-February. Thousands descended on the state Capitol in Madison to protest against it nonstop for weeks and Senate Democrats fled the state in an futile attempt to block a vote on the measure. Republicans across the country are watching the drama play out as they contemplate cost-cutting moves in their own states.

The law is currently tied up in court and hasn't taken effect. Its opponents hope a Kloppenburg victory would tilt the court to the left and set the stage for the justices to strike it down.

Turnout for the April 5 election shattered expectations. Initial returns showed Kloppenburg had defeated Prosser by about 200 votes.

But the Waukesha County clerk stepped forward two days after the election and announced she had failed to report 14,000 votes. Those votes flipped the race for Prosser.

The clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, worked for Prosser when he was the Republican Assembly spekaer in the mid-1990s. Nickolaus has said she made an honest mistake, but the GAB is reviewing her operations.

Kloppenburg on Wednesday filed a complaint along with her recount request asking the board to appoint an independent investigator to look into Nickolaus' practices, alleging problems with her election administration dating back to 2004. Kloppenburg said during her news conference she felt the board has worked too closely with Nickolaus to perform an unbiased review.

Nickolaus' office said she had no comment on the complaint. Magney, the GAB's spokesman, says the board is independent but could choose at its May meeting to hire an outsider.

Kloppenburg also noted her campaign had learned of other problems around the state on election night, including under voting in Milwaukee as well as long lines and even allegations of photocopied ballots. Prosser's "threats" about how much the recount may cost won't stop her from exercising her right to a recount, she said.

"If there is doubt," she said, "we must remove it."

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Associated Press writer Jason Smathers in Madison contributed to this report.