By Kevin Lee Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — As election canvassers in Milwaukee County continue to tabulate the results from the April 5 state Supreme Court race, the question still looms — will there be a recount?
Milwaukee County is the last of the state’s 72 counties to submit its vote totals to the state government.
Once Milwaukee County submits its canvassed results to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, the candidates — incumbent Justice David Prosser and assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg — will have three days to decide whether to petition for a recount.
Submitted results from 71 counties show Prosser leading Kloppenburg by a vote of 652,891-615,970, a difference of 37,011 votes.
Prosser’s lead would be reduced to 7,300 when adding Milwaukee County’s vote total as reported by the Associated Press on election night. Milwaukee County is expected to favor Kloppenburg.
In a pre-emptive effort, the Prosser campaign is using the voting margin and potential expenses to discourage his opponent.
“With the results of last Tuesday’s election nearing final certification, the outcome is close to a reality,” said Brian J. Nemoir, a spokesman for the Prosser Recount Team. “Justice Prosser’s margin of victory — 19 times more than the historical gain in statewide recounts — is perhaps the strongest case for avoiding the financial burden a recount would place upon taxpayers.”
When asked whether the Kloppenburg campaign would seek a recount, spokeswoman Melissa Mulliken said, “The process is ongoing,” referring to Milwaukee County’s canvassing of votes.
David Schultz, an election law professor at Hamline University in Minnesota, said even statewide recounts typically result in changes of a just few hundred votes at most.
“Election day is the first draft, and then the canvassing boards meet to confirm those results,” he said. “I don’t expect too many differences.”
The 7,300 vote margin between the candidates would represent a 0.48 percent difference. According to state law, a candidate who petitions for recount would have administrative fees waived if the vote margin between the candidates is less than 0.5 percent.
That means county governments, which collect election results for state and federal elections from cities, towns and villages, would have to bear the brunt of the costs of a recount.
A candidate may opt for a statewide recount or may pick and choose particular counties, cities or precincts.
The website MediaTracker.org, reported Thursday that the head of Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, Kevin Kennedy, said the cost of a statewide recount will be $1-million-plus.
“… Recounts usually don’t make a difference,” Kennedy told the MediaTracker.
Milwaukee County Elections Deputy Administrator Suzette Emmer said a countywide recount could cost Milwaukee County $500,000 because of programming costs for voting machines and reimbursement to municipal clerks for their assistance.
Milton City Clerk Nancy Zastrow, a former Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association president, said county election officials will rely on internal staff and their boards of canvassers during a recount, with additional help coming from local election officials.
In a November 2010 report, the Pew Center for the States indicated that statewide recount efforts in Minnesota and Washington state cost an average of 15-cents to 30-cents per ballot.
Using those figures, a full statewide recount effort for the Wisconsin Supreme Court race would cost between $225,000 to $450,000 for local governments.
Schultz pointed out that Minnesota has been home to two recent recount efforts. In the November 2010 election, Mark Dayton of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party edged out Republican Tom Emmer in the race to replace Tim Pawlenty as Minnesota governor.
A recount showed Dayton’s winning margin slip by 95 votes, but he still maintained a 8,675 vote difference, or a margin of victory of 0.4 percent.
The 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota between incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken, featured one of the most contentious recount efforts in recent history. The recount effort lasted almost eight months.
Out of 2.9 million ballots cast, canvassed election results showed Coleman holding a 215 vote lead, a difference of 0.0089 percent.
A recount that incorporated challenged ballots and almost 1,000 incorrectly rejected absentee ballots gave challenger Franken the lead in the election. After a legal challenge from Coleman, a Minnesota court upheld the recount findings and certified Franken the winner by a margin of 312 votes, a 0.01 percent difference.
Franken took the oath of office in July 2009 following the November 2008 election.