Democrats immediately suggested a conspiracy was at work late Thursday after a county clerk discovered some 14,000 votes in conservative Waukesha County, Wis. The new votes broke overwhelmingly for incumbent conservative Justice David Prosser, propelling him to a stunning lead of more than 7,300 votes.
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said that a computer error caused 14,315 votes cast in the city of Brookfield not to be included in the unofficial tally that was released following Tuesday’s election.
Of those 14,315 votes, 10,859 were cast for Prosser, and 3,456 for challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, according to Nickolaus.
“I’m thankful that this error was caught early in the process,” Nickolaus said. “This is not a case of extra ballots being found. This is human error which I apologize for, which is common.”
Waukesha County is considered a Republican stronghold in the state, so correcting an undercount of ballots there would naturally work in Prosser’s favor.
The sudden tilt for Prosser was a startling turnabout from earlier Thursday, when Kloppenburg, who was heavily backed by the unions and the Democratic Party, declared herself the winner based on preliminary vote tallies. When she made that declaration she led by about 200 votes.
The bitterly contested race has been described as “ground zero” in the fight between unions and austerity minded governors, who are trying to balance their state budgets by limiting the benefits paid to public-sector employees.
The race also will decide whether conservatives maintain their 4-to-3 advantage on the state Supreme Court — a vital consideration for Republicans who are counting on the court to uphold Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial Budget Repair Bill, which is already facing challenges in Wisconsin’s lower courts.
|Incumbent David Prosser
"I'm encouraged by the various reports form the county canvasses," Prosser said in a statement released after the new vote totals were announced. "Our confidence is high, and we will continue to monitor with optimism, and believe that the positive results will hold. We've always maintained faith in the voters and trust the election officials involved in the canvassing will reaffirm the lead we've taken."
Prosser’s current lead appears to be just beyond the margin that would automatically trigger a recount under Wisconsin law. So if it holds up, the only way challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg could obtain a statewide recount would be to finance the cost herself.
The bombshell news of 14,000 new votes was just the latest twist in an election that set a record for the highest third-party TV ad expenditures in Wisconsin history.
It came following the flight of 14 Democratic senators out of the state in a bid to thwart Walker’s budget bill. The massive protests that followed choked the state capitol, but ultimately were unable to stop passage of measures that constrain the collective bargaining power of Wisconsin’s public-sector unions.
Organized labor counterattacked by targeting Prosser’s race in a bid to prove that any politician whose views appeared to complement those of the grass-roots conservative movement would pay dearly for it at the polls.
But now it appears even the vaunted power of big labor wasn’t enough to overcome the grass-roots energy that the tea parties injected into Prosser’s campaign in its 11th hour.
Some speculate the outcome in Wisconsin could even affect the ongoing donnybrook between Republicans and Democrats over profligate spending on the federal level.
“Look what happened in Wisconsin,” former GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra told Newsmax in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
“If you take a look at what happened in Wisconsin, if the incumbent judge lost, that would be a real disappointment,” he said. “He may have [lost]. People would see that as the tea party couldn’t deliver more than once. They won an election. But that when people started implementing the policies that they were advocating for, and when the next opportunity came for them to reinforce that ‘Yeah, this is what we want to have done,’ that they came up short.”
The flip side, however, is that a Prosser victory would be a devastating setback for a Democratic left already stung by Walker’s tough pro-business stance as he strives to heal Wisconsin’s struggling economy.
Predictably, left-leaning pundits howled at the reversal late Thursday, despite the fact that they have benefited on several occasions from similar post-election turnabouts themselves – the most recent being the controversial, drawn-out election that sent Minnesota Democrat Al Franken to the U.S. Senate over then-incumbent GOP Sen. Norm Coleman in 2009.
Kloppenburg appears prepared to push for a recount whether she’s close enough to trigger the process automatically under state law. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the late discovery of that ballots had not been properly included in the reported tally from Waukesha amounted to “a serious breach of election procedure.
Kloppenburg’s campaign announced it would file an open records request, so it could examine all communications to and from the county clerk’s office.
Also, a liberal activist group called Citizen Action of Wisconsin, whose affiliates include scores of union locals and the AARP, called for “an immediate federal investigation and immediate impoundment of all computer equipment, ballots, and other relevant evidence needed to verify a fair vote count in Waukesha County. This investigation should include an accounting of all communications by Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus and anyone in the Waukesha clerk’s office with all outside actors, and all interested parties to the election dispute.”
John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, told MSNBC host Ed Schultz that it is not uncommon for election results to swing during post-election canvassing.
“I think the Walker administration is certainly going to feel empowered by this,” Nichols predicted. “But again, this piles on to a host of incredibly scandalous and controversial developments. Some of them may ultimately turn out to be legitimate. But when you put this into the pattern of what we’ve seen – violations of open meetings law, late-night votes, 17-second votes in the State Assembly – again and again, things that are so controversial.
Nichols expressed confidence that Democrats would be able to get a statewide recount, even if Kloppenburg’s campaign did not automatically qualify for one under state law.
The statewide canvass of votes, which would determine if the state standard for a recount has been met, will continue on Friday.
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