In a shocking twist, a clerk in a conservative Wisconsin county announced Thursday that she had discovered a net gain of 7,582 votes for an embattled conservative Supreme Court justice, a total that would make him the winner of an election in which his challenger declared victory Wednesday.
The election drew national attention because it was seen as a referendum on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights, which sparked huge protests and has been put on hold by a judge.
Unofficial tallies Wednesday had put Assistant Atty. Gen. JoAnne Kloppenburg 204 votes ahead of Justice David Prosser. But as county canvassing boards began double-checking totals Thursday, those margins shifted.
Then Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced at a 5:45 p.m. news conference that she had left out the 14,315 votes cast in the city of Brookfield in the totals she released Tuesday night. Prosser won 10,859 votes there to Kloppenburg's 3,456. Coupled with small increases elsewhere in the county, Prosser gained a total of 7,582 votes on his challenger, giving him a 0.5% margin — enough to avoid a state-financed recount.
"This is human error, which I apologize for," said Nickolaus, a Republican.
Nickolaus has drawn controversy for keeping election data on private office computers that are not part of the county network. She said the error had nothing to do with that. The mistake was discovered during an open meeting of the county canvassing board, which was attended by at least one Democrat, Ramona Kitzinger.
Kitzinger told reporters at the news conference that Nickolaus was telling the truth. "We went over everything and made sure that all the numbers jived up, and they did," Kitzinger said.
Other Democrats were skeptical of the announcement.
Rep. Peter Barca, the Assembly minority leader, in a statement noted that Nickolaus had worked for Republicans in the Legislature when Prosser was a leader there. "Her approach raises questions about the integrity of the election to the highest court in our state."