Justice Prosser appeared to pick up nearly 8,000 votes Thursday — likely a decisive number in the extremely close election — as county clerks began the process of double-checking and certifying the results of the state Supreme Court race, which has become a proxy fight over Wisconsin’s law restricting the power of public-sector unions.
His opponent, state Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, declared victory Wednesday after unofficial results gave her a 204-vote advantage out of 1.5 million votes cast.
On Thursday evening, however, the Waukesha County clerk's office dropped a bombshell, telling state election officials that the county would be adjusting its totals to give the conservative-leaning jurist an additional 7,500 net votes.
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said about 14,000 votes in the Republican-leaning county weren’t reported to the Associated Press for its unofficial election-night tallies, on which news organizations based their reporting. The principal error was that the numbers for the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield had been entered but not saved.
“This is not a case of extra votes or extra ballots being found,” she said. “This is human error, which I apologize for.”
While small changes and random mistakes of a few dozen here or a hundred there are common during canvassing and recounts (and thus potentially decisive in a 200-vote-margin race), a lead of more than 7,000 votes is not likely to be overcome.
“We went over everything and made sure all the numbers jibed up and they did. Those numbers jibed up, and we’re satisfied they’re correct,” adding that she was a Democrat, but “I’m not going to stand here and tell you something that’s not true.”
State auditors said they would review the county’s work.
“There is a history of secrecy and partisanship surrounding the Waukesha County clerk and there remain unanswered questions,” One Wisconsin Now Director Scot Ross said in a statement.
The obscure judicial-retention race exploded into a nationally watched nail-biter after it was redefined as a referendum on the state’s new law restricting collective bargaining for public employees. Unions threw their support behind Ms. Kloppenburg in an effort to gain a liberal majority on the high court, which is expected to hear a legal challenge to the law.
Unlike his rival and some of his own followers on social-networking sites, Justice Prosser did not immediately claim victory, saying only that “I’m encouraged by the various reports from the county canvasses.”
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Valerie Richardson covers politics and the West from Denver. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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