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“Human error” decides tight race in Wisconsin state Supreme Court elections

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On Thursday, April 7, several thousand previously uncounted votes were discovered in
the Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice elections, upsetting JoAnne Kloppenburg’s initial
victory as fluctuating vote counts appeared to give incumbent Justice David Prosser a
comfortable lead. Kloppenburg, a previously little-known progressive candidate, had
declared victory in the elections following an initial ballot count on Wednesday that gave
her a slim 204 vote lead over Prosser. Prosser has served as a justice for 12 years and is
widely considered to be a conservative ally of Governor Scott Walker.

Election officials cited a computer error as the main cause of the miscount, which
did not include some 7,000 plus votes from the City of Brookfield in traditionally
Republican voting Waukesha County. According to 2010 Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
report, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus had been criticized for her insistence
on using an antiquated personal computer to collect and store election data rather than
updating equipment to the statewide system standards that were applied everywhere
else. Mary Spicuzza of the Wisconsin State Journal noted on her Twitter that “Kathy
Nickolaus worked for Assembly Republican Caucus when Prosser was Speaker. Caucus
is controlled by speaker, so he is her former boss.”

On Tuesday, April 5th, Wisconsin voters took to the polls in the first elections held
since Wisconsin Governor Walker took office and introduced a string of controversial
legislation including a provision that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for
most public employees. Many predict that the outcome of the election, referred to
by some as a referendum on Walker’s policies, could have serious implications on
the outcome of Walker’s budget bill and anti-collective bargaining provision that are
currently under litigation in a circuit court.

Elections for the position of state Supreme Court Justice would normally receive little
attention, with the long-standing incumbents often securing a victory with little contest.
However, the political struggle between state Republicans and popular opposition to
Walker’s Budget Repair Bill quickly pushed the election to the national fore as it became
less about the Supreme Court and more symbolic of an electoral effort to mobilize in
defense of workers’ rights.

While election results remained up in the air with totals switching back and forth between
the two candidates, the election has still proved to be significant for Wisconsin regardless
of its outcome. With nearly 1.5 million votes cast, 19 Wisconsin counties that previously
voted for Governor Walker in 2010 elections flipped in the Supreme Court election by
voting for Kloppenburg rather than Walker’s ally Prosser.

The election also set a record for the most money spent by special interest groups on TV
ads in the state of Wisconsin with both sides pouring in a combined total of over $3.5
million dollars in the contest. The aggressive nature of some of the tv spots reflected
some of the tensions that have been simmering in Wisconsin and the United States over
labor issues such as the right to collective bargaining.

Public opinion, both on state and national levels, has shifted against Governor Walker
and his stance against collective bargaining, with a recent Gallup poll finding that 48%
of Americans agree more with the unions as opposed to 39% who agree more with
governors in state labor disputes.

Meanwhile in Washington, Republican and Democratic Congressmen had failed to reach
an agreement on the federal budget as Thursday came to a close. Government officials
and hundreds or thousands of federal employees prepared for the possibility of the first
government shutdown since 1995, which would halt all non-essential and defense-related
government functions until a deal is reached.

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