RACINE (AP) — A recount request filed by state Sen. Van Wanggaard was approved Monday by Wisconsin election officials, who ordered Racine County officials to begin reviewing all of the nearly 72,000 ballots cast starting Wednesday.
Wanggaard requested a recount last week, three days after an official canvass showed him trailing Democratic challenger John Lehman by 834 votes. The margin represented 1.2 percent of the 71,868 ballots cast.
Democrats had called on the Republican incumbent to concede, saying a recount would only waste taxpayer money and delay the inevitable. But Wanggaard's campaign said it was concerned about reports of voting irregularities and wanted to ensure the outcome was accurate.
The result of the recount could be significant for several reasons. Democrats suffered embarrassing losses in all five of the other recall elections this month, so winning the 21st District Senate seat would give them a small measure of redemption. Also, the state Senate is currently split 16-16, so the winner will tip the balance of power in his party's favor, if only temporarily.
The June 5 recalls were prompted by outrage over a law pushed by Walker and passed by the Republican-led Legislature. The measure stripped most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights and required them to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits.
An official canvass found Lehman had 36,351 votes, or 50.6 percent, while Wanggaard received 35,517 votes, or 49.4 percent. Based on the number of votes cast and the margin separating the candidates, the recount cost Wanggaard $685.
Taxpayers will cover any remaining costs. The Racine County clerk didn't immediately return a message asking how much a recount might cost.
A recount can be an arduous, sometimes contentious process. Members of the canvassing board will review each ballot one by one as representatives from both campaigns watch.
They'll check to see how the ballot was marked, whether the voter's intent was clear and whether the ballot was properly initialed by poll workers, said Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board. The parties will have an opportunity to object, and the canvassing board will make a final determination, he said.
According to the GAB's order, the Racine County Board of Canvassers will begin the recount Wednesday at 9 a.m. The board must finish by July 2, and each campaign will then have until July 10 to appeal.
If there's no appeal, the GAB will finalize the outcome by certifying the election, most likely on the same day, GAB spokesman Mike Haas said.
Magney said the race was small enough that the July 2 deadline wouldn't likely become much of an issue.
The state Senate currently has 16 Democrats and 16 Republicans, meaning the winner of the Wanggaard-Lehman race will give his party majority control. The victory, however, could be largely symbolic. The Legislature isn't expected to convene again until January, and the November elections could cause the balance of political power to shift once again.
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