The election was over and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. No more nasty mail and campaign commercials. The county clerks who are responsible for administering the election, and so much more, relaxed a bit and prepared for the onslaught of deer hunters seeking a hunting license.
But the much needed rest from elections was not to happen; at least not now. Two close elections required a recount. And in a third election the losing candidate sought a recount.
The Government Accountability Board oversees elections and recounts in Wisconsin. The recount is governed by state law and spelled out in a 50 page manual that begins with the sentence “Elections are often decided by a few votes.”
In 2008, a candidate for the 47th Assembly District was defeated by just 28 votes. After the recount was completed the losing candidate picked up five votes and her opponent was declared the winner.
Several elections across Wisconsin this year were decided by close margins.
In the case of two local elections - the two Assembly Districts in the Eau Claire area - the difference between the winning and losing candidates was less than 100 votes. Both losing candidates requested a recount.
In elections with more than 1,000 votes cast, if the winner wins by a half a percentage point or less there is no charge for the recount.
In 31st Senate District the margin of victory was 439 votes. State law provides for a candidate to request a recount if the margin of victory is greater than a half a percentage point.
In my race the margin was about seven tenths of a percentage point. To request a recount, my opponent paid $5 a ward or about $1,500. Since the district is very large - covering all or part of nine counties - this fee is parceled out across many counties.
The fee comes nowhere close to covering the cost of the recount election. For example, Buffalo County will receive about $150 for the recount. The county clerk told me last week the cost of recalibrating the voting machine in Mondovi to do the recount costs $200 alone.
In 2006, Vernon County was involved in a recount for the 96th Assembly District. According to a December 3, 2006 interview printed in the Wisconsin State Journal, the Vernon County Clerk stated the recount did not significantly change the election results but it cost the county more than $4500.
The recount for the two Assembly races in Eau Claire will happen separately and will be completed first. In all other counties in our Senate District the recount for the Senate seat began last Friday.
The recounting is a slow and serious procedure. Every voting machine is tested. Every ballot is recounted. All paper records from electronic voting machines are recounted; all logs and poll lists are reviewed; every absentee ballot application, every rejected absentee ballot and every provisional ballot is reviewed. All actions and decisions are recorded.
The process must be completed within thirteen days after the recount is authorized. It is likely to take that much time. When I spoke with the county clerk from Trempealeau County, he reminded me Trempealeau County had a recount in the recent primary for sheriff. Counting 3,000 votes took three days. In the Senate race there are about 10,000 votes to count in Trempealeau County - likely to take a week or more.
The recount process is part of Wisconsin law to assure the will of the voters is followed and the proper procedure for counting votes is followed by election officials. Late Friday night, after the first day of recounting, I spoke with a gentleman involved in the recount.
“The clerk was very professional,” he told me. “She knew exactly what to do and helped us understand the process. It was all quite a lesson in democracy for all of us.”