By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Van Wanggaard has five business days to decide whether he wants to continue fighting.
The incumbent Republican senator of the 21st Senate District remained 819 votes behind Democratic challenger John Lehman early Monday afternoon, when an extensive recount wrapped up.
If Wanggaard concedes, Lehman returns to the seat he held before Wanggaard defeated him in November 2010, giving Democrats, at least for now, a 17-16 majority in the state Senate.
“As with my decision to pursue the recount, I will spend the next couple of days reviewing the evidence, speaking with voters, supporters, and my family before deciding my next step,” Wanggaard, of Racine, said in a statement.
Reid Magney, spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, the state’s election watchdog, said Wanggaard has until the close of business July 10 to challenge the recount in Circuit Court. GAB will not certify the results until either the deadline passes or the court decides the challenge.
Wangaard’s mulling stirred the immediate criticism of Democratic leadership.
“The voters of the 21st Senate District have spoken and their votes have been re-counted. Senator-Elect John Lehman was won… both times,” said state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, in a statement.
“The people of this state want a balanced and more cordial Legislature working with the Governor. Wanggaard’s continued attempts on behalf of Republican leadership to stall the transition of legislative control only furthers the divide and underscores the perception that we cannot work together,” Erpenbach added.
Lehman had won the June 5 recall election by 834 votes, according to official canvassing by the Racine County Clerk’s Office.
The final count from canvassers:
- Lehman with 36,358 votes,
- Wanggaard with 35,539 votes.
There was a scattering of 58 votes, write-ins for others.
It appears 15 disputed votes were tossed out.
Justin Phillips, Wanggaard’s campaign manager, has said scores of more ballots were in question in an election that marked by irregularities and allegations of fraud.
“Unfortunately, rather than clarify the myriad of issues that surfaced on June 5, the recount uncovered even more suspicious activity,” Wanggaard said in his statement.
The recount uncovered:
- Missing pages in poll books,
- Missing signatures on supplemental poll lists,
- Incorrect voting numbers,
- Unsealed and sealed and reopened ballot bags in wards in Racine.
“None of these issues would have been discovered without the recount,” Wanggaard said, adding that “anyone who argues that this recount was a waste of time, or that we do not need voter ID, either wants to conceal these potential fraudulent activities or hasn’t been paying attention.”
Magney said GAB is unaware of any other irregularities associated with the election.
The most recent problem to surface — the resealing of the ballot bags — is overridden by the process and timing, Magney said.
Asked if the discovery raises concerns over the chain of evidence — to borrow from Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun’s synthetic testosterone case — Magney said there are many checks in the process.
After the polls close, poll workers make a printout of the vote count, which also is saved on an electronic memory device. The final tabulations are taken to the county clerk.
“So we know at the time the polls closed how many votes there were for each candidate,” Magney said.
Because there wasn’t a significant variance between the election night number and the recount, the issue with the ballot bags did not corrupt the result, Magney said.
He likened the matter to the state Supreme Court race election in April 2011, when questions concerning ballot bags in Waukesha County only fueled the fires of fraud allegations.
“Yes, there were holes in those bags, and someone could have tampered with (the votes). But there was no significant difference in those vote totals,” Magney said.
Racine County Clerk Wendy Christensen did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Lehman could not be reached for comment, and his spokesman has not returned several phone calls from Wisconsin Reporter.
Last week, the Wanggaard campaign raised concerns about what it said were potentially hundreds of ballots in which voters had not signed the supplemental poll list.
Wisconsin’s voter ID law requires voter signatures, even though the photo identification portion is tied up in court.
GAB acknowledged the law was not followed but said that throwing out the votes would be punishing and disenfranchising voters for “administrative errors.”
Wisconsin Reporter on Monday asked Magney if any other communities had similar issues, given some reported confusion over voter ID.
“We’re not aware of the problem happening elsewhere,” he said. “Boards of canvassers in every county would have looked at these issues. If they found them, we have not been made aware.”
Asked why Racine appears to be the only community in which the omission of voter signatures occurred, Magney said: “I don’t know.”