- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wisconsin voters are likely to face the first statewide recount in more than 20 years after unofficial results in the fractious state Supreme Court race showed a paper-thin margin of victory for the labor-backed candidate in a race that centered on the power of public-employees unions.

With all 3,630 precincts reporting, the unofficial returns showed that Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg led incumbent Justice David Prosser by a margin of 204 votes. Ms. Kloppenburg declared victory Wednesday afternoon shortly after the final precinct results were reported.

“Wisconsin voters have spoken and I am grateful for, and humbled by, their confidence and trust,” Ms. Kloppenburg said in a statement released to the Milwaukee (Wis.) Journal Sentinel. “I will be independent and impartial and I will decide cases based on the facts and the law.”

Justice Prosser, 68, released a message on his website asking for donations for a recount effort. Under Wisconsin law, a candidate may request a recount if the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percent, which is the case in this race. The state would conduct the recount free of charge.

“After a challenging battle in which a historic number of votes were cast in a Supreme Court race, we need your help in preserving victory for Justice David Prosser,” said a statement on the Prosser website. “The likely next step is a recount, requiring resources to protect the integrity of the ballots cast and deliver a win.”

Wisconsin law requires an official recount request to be made by April 20.

In her statement, Ms. Kloppenburg, 57, said that “people tell me they believe partisan politics do not belong in our courts,” but partisan politics were front and center during the election, thanks to the recently passed Wisconsin law restricting the collective-bargaining authority of public-employee unions.

Justice Prosser’s routine bid for another 10-year term exploded into a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to limit the collective-bargaining power of public-employee unions. Justice Prosser, a conservative, held the swing vote on the seven-member court.

A victory by Ms. Kloppenburg, who was heavily backed by labor unions, would give the liberal wing a 4-3 advantage. A lawsuit filed shortly after the collective-bargaining law passed in March is expected to reach the high court, and its composition could well determine the law’s fate.

A state court judge has blocked the collective-bargaining law from taking effect until the lawsuit is resolved.

The governor’s proposal touched off massive protests outside the state Capitol in Madison and vows of retribution by labor unions, who see limits on union authority as the first step in a nationwide Republican effort to kill off the labor movement.

Justice Prosser began the election with a comfortable lead, but polls taken over the course of the election showed Ms. Kloppenburg gaining as the campaign intensified. Spending on the election was expected to top $3.5 million, with much of that coming from outside interest groups on both sides.

“The left spent a lot of time and money trying to turn this into a referendum on Gov. Walker,” said Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute for Public Policy, a free-market think-tank based in Madison. “The right feels somewhat upbeat that despite everything thrown at them, they’re close enough to have a recall.”

No matter the outcome of a recount, it’s possible that Mr. Prosser may be on the bench when and if the collective-bargaining case reaches the high court. The winner of the race would not be sworn in until Aug. 1.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.