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COMMENTARY: Recount costs in, it still wasn't worth it

By   /   June 24, 2011  /   No Comments

Margin never justified cost of Kloppenburg’s folly

By Kevin Binversie

As this expose from the reporters at the Wisconsin Reporter showcases, with the exception of two counties, Wisconsin’s first statewide recount in more than 20 years cost the state’s taxpayers more than $400,000 to complete. 

The good news is it was 20 percent less than initially forecast. The bad news is it was an unnecessary exercise. The results were the same — the state of Wisconsin dodged a bullet named JoAnne Kloppenburg.

Let’s just start with the numbers.

After the statewide canvass in the spring election for state Supreme Court justice, incumbent David Prosser led Deputy Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg by 7,316 votes. At the conclusion of the recount, the lead for Prosser was 7,004, a change of 312 votes. By the $400,000 figure, it cost Wisconsin taxpayers about $1,282.05 for each vote trimmed from the Prosser lead during to recount.

Then, there are the human resource costs. Those employed in an average county clerk’s office act as the official record-keepers for the county. Elections are only part of the job.

Most of the time, the county clerk’s staff is dealing with requests for marriage and recreational vehicle licenses, county board meeting minutes and work permits. So if most of the staff was handling a recount, who was staffing these functions of the office?

Finally, there are county clerk budgets — now barely getting by. On average, your typical county clerk’s office budget only allows for a certain number of elections each year, while it does the day-to-day operations of the office. 

At the start of 2011, most clerks had budgeted for two elections: the spring primary in February and the spring general election in April. They got those accomplished and budgeted for, and then they had recount costs dumped on them. The state of Wisconsin doesn’t reimburse counties for the cost of recounts, so many counties had to reshuffle scarce resources to pay for them.

Also, a number of county clerks and municipalities now must find funding within their budgets for the primaries and general elections of the nine state Senate recalls with four election days between them all.

One could go all day assessing blame for the recall elections, but money to pay for them is also going to come out of other counties' services.

Yes, Kloppenburg was within the legal limits to have a taxpayer-funded recount of her state Supreme Court election — 0.5 percent margin of all ballots cast — but the costs elsewhere, surely, didn’t make the effort worthwhile for the rest of us who lived it and watched it.

Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at [email protected]