Unchartered Territory

One thing is certain in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court race: an historic recount is on the horizon.

Wisconsin’s election chief said Wednesday he expects the unofficial vote totals in the state Supreme Court race to change as local officials verify the counts before an expected recount that would be the first of its kind in modern state history.

Little-known attorney JoAnne Kloppenburg declared victory over incumbent state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser on Wednesday based on unofficial totals showing her with a scant 204-vote margin out of nearly 1.5 million cast in Tuesday’s election.

Prosser’s campaign has not said yet whether it plans to ask for a recount, but it’s expected they will. If they do, it would mark the first time since 1858 that a statewide recount has been launched in a race involving candidates, Government Accountability Board director Kevin Kennedy said. The last statewide recount was on a 1989 tax referendum.

The unofficial totals showing Kloppenburg with a narrow lead are “very good numbers,” Kennedy said, but they will change.

“There will be changes because this is a very human-driven process,” Kennedy said. “We expect mistakes. . . . Our goal will be to make sure every ballot is counted and every discrepancy on election day is accounted for.”

Here’s what happens next.

Municipal clerks were required to submit all their paperwork to all 72 county clerks by the end of the business day Wednesday. Each county’s board of canvassers is then charged with reconciling the totals, making sure the ballots in hand match the number of people who voted, beginning Thursday morning.

They have until April 15 to submit the canvassed totals, but Kennedy said he expects them to arrive before then. Once the last report is in, the candidates have three business days to ask for a recount.

The latest the recount could start is April 21, and Kennedy expected it would be done before the state must finalize the vote on May 15.

Ironically the final outcome could be decided by the State Supreme Court.

A legal challenge to the results can be filed after the county canvassing boards meet. Under the law, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson assigns a reserve judge to hear all the challenges, which could come from multiple counties, Kennedy said.

An appeal of that decision would go to the state appeals court based in Madison. Kennedy said he believes that decision could be appealed to the seven-member Supreme Court, where Prosser is a sitting justice. If the court deadlocked 3-3, the lower court’s ruling would stand.

Looks like Wisconsin will continue to be in the national spotlight.

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