First Day of Recall Recount Sets Tone for Long, Detailed Process
Unofficial tallies from the Town of Dover give Wanggaard a net gain of three votes, but Lehman remains in the lead. In a room full of ballots and people, the recount of ballots cast in the 21st Senate District race began Wednesday.
A small conference room at the Racine County Courthouse is serving as ground zero for the recount of 71,868 ballots cast in the 21st Senate District recall election between Democrat John Lehman and Republican Van Wanggaard.
Wanggaard, who lost to Lehman in his bid to keep the 21st District seat on June 5, filed a petition Friday with the state Government Accountability Board asking for a recount. Wanggaard lost by 834 votes — with Lehman receiving 36,351 votes and Wanggaard getting 35,517 votes.
Racine County Clerk Wendy Christensen has 13 days to complete the recount, which would take her to July 2. Christensen and her crew are expected to take the full time allotted since the state Supreme Court recount last year took eight days with half as many ballots. The recount includes reconciling the poll books, re-tabulating the vote counts on the machines and in some cases counting ballots by hand.
Same-day voter registrations, however, will not be considered. Christensen said they are looking only at the number of ballots cast and the number of votes tallied on the voter logs.
While Lehman attended the start of the recount on Wednesday, Wanggaard was not in the audience.
“I wanted to see what this looked like,” Lehman said.
Since Wanggaard lost by a margin of more than one-half a percentage point, he will need to pay for the recount.
Randy Nash, an attorney representing the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said he's mainly focused on having all of the votes counted.
"I'm here to say that when the Republicans take issue with a vote not being counted that they are wrong," he said. "I think this is a complete waste of taxpayers money, especially with the margin being way over 800 votes."
The outcome of the 21st Senate District race has been watched closely statewide because a Lehman victory gives Democrats control of the state Senate by a 17-16 margin. The Legislature is not in session until after the November 2012 elections during which all 99 Assembly seats are up for grabs and 16 of 33 Senate seats are up for re-election.
Recount starts with Town of Dover
The Town of Dover was the first municipality to have its ballots recounted. While the numbers weren't official until Christensen read the results at the end of the day, it appeared at about 3:30 p.m. that Van Wanggaard picked up some votes.
After the ballots were reconciled and counted, Wanggaard's tally went from 1,154 to 1,156. Senator-elect John Lehman's count decreased by one; 598 to 597, giving Wanggaard a cumulative increase of three votes.
But Nash said he made a formal objection to the way votes from Dover were tallied because the number in the poll book didn't match the number of ballots and he disagreed with the way the numbers were reconciled.
In short, there were 1,780 voters recorded but 1,781 ballots. Canvassers removed one ballot that didn't match, and then they discovered an absentee ballot that wasn't properly signed. Christensen's deputies removed that ballot as well.
"By my count, they should only have taken one vote away, since there were more ballots cast by one," Nash said. "But the canvassers removed two, which is what I objected to. They ruled against me but at the objection remains a part of the minutes."
One of Christensen’s deputies clarified a few minutes later and said a total of 1,779 voters were recorded in the poll books, making the removal of two ballots appropriate.
It really doesn't matter either way, Nash continued, since Lehman has a lead of 830 votes.
But Wanggaard campaign manager Justin Phillips said the vote pickup is good news and remains optimistic.
"Only 831 to go," he joked.
Lazich on hand to see how recount proceeds
Among those at the Racine County Courthouse Wednesday was state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin). She said she was attending the recount because as the chair of elections in the Senate, she wants to see how a recount is conducted.
"I've never seen this before," she said. "I wanted to see how it's done, how long it takes. I want to hear from the people who participate, too."
She doesn't know if she'll be present every day, but she does plan to attend as many days as possible. And now that she knows wireless Internet accessibility is available at the Racine County Courthouse, Lazich said she'll bring her computer and get some work done, too.
Mount Pleasant Trustee Karen Albeck is volunteering as a tabulator for the recount effort. What that means is that she checks the number of regular and absentee votes in the poll books and then has her figures double-checked by another tabulator. Assuming the numbers are the same, they are matched against how many ballots were cast.
"I'm retired, and I want to help," she said. "And while it is tedious, I do find it fascinating."
The recount is happening in the order in which results rolled in on election night. As soon as Dover was counted and sealed away, tabulators got started on the Town of Norway. Raymond and Yorkville were also getting underway as the clock ticked closer to 4 p.m.
The public can come to the Racine County Courthouse, 730 Wisconsin Ave., to watch the recount, but people will have to sign in and out of the room. The public also can’t bring purses, briefcases, pencils, black pens or blue pens into the room.
Stay tuned to Patch for updates. We’ll check on the recount efforts every day until the results are final.