Prosser declares victory
Totals show 7,316-vote lead over Kloppenburg
State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser emerged as the winner Friday over challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg in a heated election that drew national attention because of the fight over collective bargaining and a ballot reporting error in Waukesha County.
A canvass of vote totals from the state's 72 counties finalized Friday afternoon shows Prosser beating Kloppenburg, an assistant attorney general, by 7,316 votes. Initial results in the election had showed Kloppenburg leading the race. The final canvass of the April 5 vote was completed 10 days after the election, the maximum allowed by state law.
The margin - 0.488% - is within the 0.5% limit that would allow Kloppenburg to request a statewide recount at taxpayers' expense.
The deadline for calling for a recount is 5 p.m. Wednesday. Although counties have certified their results, by law the Government Accountability Board can't certify the statewide results and declare an official winner until after that recount deadline passes or after completion of a recount, the state agency noted.
The Kloppenburg campaign has not decided whether to seek a recount, and it has not conceded the race, either.
Prosser spokesman Brian Nemoir declared victory for the incumbent, issuing a statement that said, "Today, the will of the electorate is clear with the last canvass now completed and Justice David Prosser re-elected to another 10-year term to the Supreme Court.
"Justice Prosser extends his appreciation and respect to JoAnne Kloppenburg and her spirited campaign. With certified results in hand, Justice Prosser hopes that a shared respect for the judiciary allows the campaign to move to a positive conclusion."
Kloppenburg campaign manager Melissa Mulliken issued a statement saying, "Now that the statewide canvass is complete, our campaign will focus our decision-making on whether to request a recount. . . . We will review the information available to us and carefully weigh the options."
Experts have said it's unlikely a recount would change the result of an election with a margin of more than a few hundred votes.
Milwaukee County was the last to certify its results, which election officials said is typical for the state's largest county. Compared with totals reported on election night, the Milwaukee County canvass added 409 votes for Prosser and 398 votes for Kloppenburg, a net gain of 11 votes for Prosser, primarily the result of correcting a previously reported error in which two wards on Milwaukee's south side reported totals for absentee votes only.
Milwaukee County Election Commission officials found no significant discrepancies in their final checks, said Suzette Emmer, deputy election administrator.
Shortly after the election, Kloppenburg held a 204-vote lead statewide, but that thin margin disappeared after Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced on April 7 that she failed to save on her computer and then report 14,315 votes in the city of Brookfield. Those votes were omitted entirely in an unofficial total she released after Tuesday's election.
The Brookfield votes swung the race in favor of Prosser, who gained more than 7,000 votes over Kloppenburg.
The Government Accountability Board launched an investigation shortly after Nickolaus announced her flub.
The probe's focus is on both the integrity of the election results and on Nickolaus' business processes related to collection of election night results, dissemination to the public and preparation for the official canvass.
"We are committed to releasing our findings about the Waukesha County canvass before the deadline for requesting a recount," said Michael Hass, staff counsel for the GAB.
The inquiry into Nickolaus' business processes is expected to take longer, the GAB has said.
The Nickolaus error was a bizarre twist in an election campaign that had been dominated by political forces and outside interest groups.
Supreme Court races are nonpartisan, but this contest had all the hallmarks of a Republican pitted against a Democrat. As the election approached, conservatives backed Prosser and liberals supported Kloppenburg, even though the candidates themselves insisted they were politically neutral.
Interest groups on both sides had portrayed the election as a referendum on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's agenda, in particular on a controversial law sharply restricting public employee unions.
The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School estimates interest groups spent more than $3.5 million on TV ads, breaking the $3.38 million record set in the 2008 Michael Gableman-Louis Butler contest, with four conservative groups that backed Prosser spending 37% more than one liberal group backing Kloppenburg.
Legal challenges to the new collective bargaining law are expected to reach the high court. The court has split 4-3 on major issues in recent years, with Prosser voting in the majority with other conservatives. Prosser was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Tommy G. Thompson in 1998 and was elected to a 10-year term in 2001.