MADISON — Wisconsin taxpayers so far are on the hook for more than a quarter-million dollars in the recount of votes in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race.
The statewide recount of ballots in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race will cost the state at least $230,000, according to updated financial data gathered by Wisconsin Reporter.
As of Friday, initial recount cost estimates from 57 of the state’s 72 counties totaled $233,539, county officials said.
That’s less than half of the Government Accountability Board’s initial estimate of $500,000, though figures from several of the state’s larger counties, including Milwaukee and Ozaukee, were unavailable.
The majority of the county officials contacted Friday said their costs were equal to or less than expected, due to both underestimating the number of volunteers they would have to conduct the recount and overestimating the time needed for the actual recounting process.
“I had originally estimated $1,700, because I thought we would have to go an extra day, but it worked out well,” said Marinette County Clerk Kathy Brandt, whose staff completed the recount in two days at a final cost of $1,448.74. “We had identified all of our problems ahead of time.”
The situation was similar in Marquette County, said Donna Seddon, the county’s clerk. The county’s recount was completed in about two days by a largely volunteer staff, making the final cost roughly $900, Seddon said.
“But if I had included all the help that I got for free, we would have spent $4,000,” she said.
Just nine of those 57 counties reported higher-than-expected recount costs. Most of the clerks in those counties said the extra money went to reprogramming databases or renting additional memory packs for vote tabulating machines.
Clerks in 10 counties — Adams, Dunn, Iowa, Langlade, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Pierce, Sauk, Sawyer and Walworth — said they hadn’t finished compiling final costs for the recount process. Officials in four counties — Racine, Shawano, St. Croix and Trempealeau — could not be reached for comment.
The statewide recount was called at the request of challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, Wisconsin’s assistant attorney general who trailed incumbent Supreme Court Justice David Prosser by 7,316 votes after the initial April 5 canvassing of ballots.
Taxpayers are on the hook for the recount, because that margin represents less than a 0.5 percent difference between candidates.
“A recount serves a larger public interest purpose, and we want to make sure that the votes are counted correctly,” said Melissa Mulliken, spokeswoman for the Kloppenburg campaign.
Messages left with a spokesman for the Prosser campaign were not returned.
Seventy-one of the state’s 72 counties completed the recount by Monday’s deadline. After receiving an extension from Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess, Waukesha County has until May 26 to complete its recount, though officials there have said things are likely to wrap up as early as next week.
Waukesha County is lagging behind the other counties, because administrators are hand-counting each ballot and taking extra precautions.
Kloppenburg saw her initial lead from April 5 erased in Waukesha County. When counties were called on to canvass and formalize the results, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nicklaus announced April 7 that 14,000 votes from the City of Brookfield hadn’t been included in the first vote totals.
The inclusion of those votes from Republican-leaning Brookfield gave Prosser a lead of more than 7,000 votes.
Nicklaus has recused herself from the recount. Retired Waukesha County Circuit Judge Robert Mawdsley is overseeing the process.
“Anomalies are still popping up,” said Mulliken. “We will take a look at the record, a look at what was discovered, a look at the explanations given and then we will consider judicial review.“
Mulliken said the recount has uncovered ballot bags that had not been sealed and identification numbers on ballot bags that did not match those on inspector logs.
In the 71 counties where the recount is complete, a total of 1,373,272 votes have been counted; 948,409 of those were tabulated in the 57 counties contacted by Wisconsin Reporter. Statewide so far, Kloppenburg has gained 660 votes, while Prosser has gained an additional 303.
But Prosser continues to lead overall, by a margin of about 6,900 votes, according to the Government Accountability Board. And based on the initial canvassed vote totals, Prosser performed particularly well in Waukesha County, besting Kloppenburg 92,263 to 32,758. Barring a huge upset there or as a result of legal challenges by Kloppenburg’s team, Prosser is likely to remain on the Supreme Court.
Most of the county clerks contacted Friday said the recount was extremely time-consuming, but most said the process was relatively painless.
“It went really smoothly,” said Polk County Clerk Carole Wondra, whose recount was completed for roughly $1,500 on May 4. “We didn’t really find anything. There was nothing to quarrel about. I learned a lot.
“That was the best part.”
Kevin Lee contributed to this report.