By Kirsten Adshead Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — It's going to cost Wisconsin's taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million to find out who will be the next state Supreme Court justice.
Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg on Wednesday said she will seek a full, statewide recount of the April 5 election in which she is challenging Justice David Prosser for a 10-year term on the bench.
"There are two reasons for this recount,” she said. “One is to verify the outcome. The other is to restore the public trust in the electoral process."
Based on the canvassed vote totals from all 72 Wisconsin counties, Prosser is winning by 7,316 votes, from about 1.5 million cast. The difference in totals is within the 0.5 percent margin that triggers an automatic recount with the state paying the tab, according to state law. With margins above 0.5 percent, the candidate pays for the recount. Prosser's margin of victory is 0.48 percent.
The Pew Center for the States reported last November statewide recount efforts in Minnesota and Washington State cost an average of 15-cents to 30-cents per ballot. Based on that formula, a full statewide recount effort in this race would cost between $225,000 and $450,000.
And last week, Milwaukee County Elections Deputy Administrator Suzette Emmer said a recount in Milwaukee County alone could cost as much as $500,000 because of programming costs for voting machines and reimbursement to municipal clerks for their assistance.
The GAB won’t certify the election until a recount is concluded.
“We have been preparing for a recount since Election Night,” Kennedy said Wednesday in a statement. “We have assembled an internal team to direct the recount, we have been in close consultation with our county clerk partners, and have arranged for legal representation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.”
During Wednesday's news conference, Kloppenburg repeatedly shied away from saying whether she thought a recount would lead her to victory.
The Prosser campaign quickly responded.
“We learned something this afternoon from JoAnne Kloppenburg. Apparently nothing will stop her from going ahead and wasting taxpayers hard-earned money to discover what election officials did on April 5th – that Justice David Prosser was re-elected,” the campaign said in a statement.
Prosser’s margin of victory is beyond the few hundred votes that typically have prompted recounts in statewide elections around the country.
In the contentious 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota between incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken, Coleman originally held a 215-vote lead. Franken ultimately prevailed, however, by 312 votes – after eight months of legal wrangling.
Kloppenburg said a full recount is necessary to ensure the integrity of a “suspect” election.
Among the concerns she cited: Polling places that ran out of ballots and gave voters photo-copied ballots instead, which may not have been properly registered by voting machines.
Kloppenburg also is requesting an independent investigation of “possible violations of Wisconsin election law” in Waukesha County, where the inclusion of 14,000 ballots that initially were excluded on election night ultimately put Prosser ahead by more than 7,000 votes.
Asked Wednesday if she would request a hand recount – versus a machine recount – Kloppenburg said a hand recount of some county results would be among the requests the GAB puts before the Dane County District Court, and "we will be supporting the Government Accountability Board in its request."
But GAB spokesman Reid Magney said that a request for a hand recount must come from a candidate, who has to convince a judge that a machine-based recount wouldn’t suffice.
The recount request marks another twist this year in the topsy-turvy world of politics here, which gained nationwide attention since Gov. Scott Walker announced his plan to limit collective bargaining powers to salary negotiations for most union public workers and to require greater employee contributions to their pension and health care plans.
Many came to view the Prosser-Kloppenburg race, while officially non-partisan, as a referendum on Walker and his collective bargaining proposals.
Whether either judicial candidate could remain impartial became a key issue in the race.
Prosser’s critics point to his history as a Republican lawmaker and to a statement his campaign made in December that said he would be a complement to Walker and GOP-led Legislature.
Kloppenburg’s critics note that she has received significant support from people who they say hope a Prosser defeat would mean a more liberal Supreme Court that might, ultimately, rule against Walker’s collective bargaining proposal.
Kloppenburg’s decision means Wisconsin won’t know for days, perhaps weeks, who will be its next justice.
The winner of the election is scheduled to take a seat on the bench Aug. 1.
Magney said a meeting will be held Monday with county election officials, and recounts should begin next week.
State law says a recount should be completed within two weeks, but legal disputes are possible.
Prosser’s campaign said on Monday, following his victory speech, that it already was preparing legal challenges to any potential recount request.
Both campaigns have hired high-profile attorneys experienced in electoral recounts, and both already are raising money to help pay for any recount-related expenses the campaigns will incur, such as lawyer fees.