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Let the Recount Begin

Waukesha County wasn't the only irregularity

Apr. 27, 2011
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The state Government Accountability Board (GAB) has set the ground rules for the statewide recount of the race for state Supreme Court, which is scheduled to be completed by May 9.

The recount will be conducted by the counties, which must cover the cost of the process. At least 31 of the state's 72 counties—including Milwaukee County—will have to recount at least some of their ballots by hand, since their older voting machines don't have enough backup memory packs to cover another count. The campaigns will have representatives in most if not all counties, who are allowed to challenge or question the canvassers. And although observers are welcome, they cannot disrupt the recount or even get close to the ballots or question those who are counting them. Milwaukee County plans on erecting a barrier so that the public is completely separated from the process, to be held in the Milwaukee County Sports Complex in Franklin.

Pens with black or blue ink aren't allowed, either.

After the votes are recounted, the county clerks will certify their totals and send them to the GAB, which will declare either Justice David Prosser or Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg the winner.

After that, it's hard to predict.

A candidate may decide to challenge the recount in court.

But GAB spokesman Reid Magney said a drawn-out legal challenge, such as the eight-month recount battle in the 2008 Minnesota Senate race, is unlikely to prevent the winner from taking his or her seat on the court on Aug. 1.

In the Minnesota race, 215 votes initially separated Norm Coleman from Al Franken. But after more than 3 million votes were recounted and fought over, the final tally resulted in a 312-vote victory for Franken.

In contrast, Prosser leads Kloppenburg by 7,316 votes, and roughly a million and a half votes were cast on April 5.

"The vote is not as close here as it was in Minnesota," Magney said. "They were really scrambling for every vote. We don't have as many votes to count."

Undervotes and Ballot Shortages

Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus has come under heavy scrutiny for her alleged "human error" on election night, when she failed to report the vote totals for Brookfield in her countywide tally for the state Supreme Court race.

But Waukesha County wasn't the only community that had glitches on Election Day.

Undervotes in Milwaukee and Racine were reported, which may have reduced vote totals in the Supreme Court race. For example, Milwaukee reported roughly 2,000 more votes for county executive than for the Supreme Court. Those undervotes could be intentional or they could be due to malfunctioning machines or other errors.

Polling places in Eau Claire, Fond du Lac and Arbor Vitae in Vilas County ran out of ballots, so voters used photocopied ballots or touch-screen machines instead.

Those irregularities may be easily explained, said Kloppenburg campaign manager Melissa Mulliken. But she said that they warrant scrutiny in such a closely watched race.

"There clearly have been anomalies [throughout the state] as well as questions raised most visibly and obviously in Waukesha County," Mulliken said. "With a margin this small, the importance of every vote is magnified and the doubt about every vote is magnified."

Ballots from 11 municipalities within Milwaukee County will be recounted by hand due to the lack of memory packs, said Suzette Emmer, deputy administrator of the Milwaukee County Election Commission. She said the recount is estimated to cost about $500,000 and that the county may need to ask for an extension of the May 9 deadline to finish its recount.


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