A painstaking recount began Wednesday in the recall election for a GOP state senator from Racine County, where witnesses and campaign officials watched as tabulators sifted through stacks of ballots and pored over poll records. State Sen. Van Wanggaard requested the recount earlier this month after an official canvass showed him trailing Democratic challenger John Lehman by 834 votes, or 1.2 percent of the nearly 72,000 ballots cast in the June 5 election. The state Senate currently has 16 Democrats and 16 Republicans, so the winner of the 21st District recall race will give his party majority control. However, the power balance could shift anew before the Legislature reconvenes in January, depending on the results of the November election. On Monday, state election officials ordered the Racine County Board of Canvass to begin the recount. By state law, the board has 13 calendar days from when the order was issued to complete the task. In this case, because that date falls on a Sunday, the board will have until the following day: July 2. Meeting that deadline could be a challenge. Two months ago the same board conducted a recount in a judges’ race that involved fewer than half the number of ballots. That effort stretched into the eighth day. County Clerk Wendy Christensen said she expected the current recount to be time-consuming but was confident the county would meet its deadline. She said the tabulators would work Saturday and take Sunday off, but that they may end up working the following weekend.
Daily updates from the recount effort will be forwarded to the state Government Accountability Board. Christensen said the GAB plans to post the numbers around noon the following day. Fourteen tabulators, several dozen other observers and a swarm of reporters squeezed into a stuffy room at the county courthouse Wednesday. Christensen had the tabulators sworn in and gave them several instructions: to look for ballots with stray marks or that weren’t properly initialed by poll workers; to count ballots and arrange them in stacks of 50; and to separate absentee ballots into their own stack.
The tabulators paired up at tables around the room, where adding machines, pads and red pens were set up. Some workers reviewed poll books to compare voter registrations to the number of ballots received. Others began counting the actual ballots. Nonpartisan witnesses stood behind them and watched in silence. Members of the Wanggaard and Lehman campaigns also circulated, holding clipboards and looking over the tabulators’ shoulders.