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Thursday, November 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 20.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Specter of recount haunts Wisconsin recall election
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If a recount is ordered, it starts simultaneously in every county on the fourth day after it is requested.
If a recount is ordered, it starts simultaneously in every county on the fourth day after it is requested.

With the recall election expected to be so close, there is the real possibility the winner won't be known for weeks as a recount drags on and lawyers from both sides fight over every vote.

Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the state's Government Accountability Board, avoids making any predictions, but says "We're preparing as if there will be a recount. I won't be surprised if there is one."

Kennedy adds, "We could have a very close election with a couple thousand absentee ballots sitting out there."

The state doesn't have any legislation that would trigger an automatic recount, Kennedy says. There is also no voting margin that campaigns must meet to request a recall but they could end up paying a fee if the difference between the leading candidate is more than half of one percent.

Kennedy predicts that if the margin is within 5,000 votes, whichever side is behind will likely demand a count.

However, a recount can't be requested until all 72 counties certify their results, which might not happen until next week, Kennedy adds. "The earliest they could ask for a recount is Tuesday [June 12], but that's only if everybody has finished their work."

When the results are certified, there is a three-day window to ask for a recount.

Wisconsin has recent experience with a statewide recount, when JoAnne Kloppenburg requested one last spring in her campaign to unseat Justice David Prosser from the state Supreme Court. Initial results had Kloppenburg, now a judge for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, losing by 7,316 votes. The recount -- the first statewide recount in more than 20 years -- showed Prosser with 7,006 more votes.

Though it was good practice, Kennedy expects a gubernatorial recount would be far more intense than the Supreme Court recount, which went fairly smoothly. Lawyers from both sides would scrutinize every ballot in every county, Kennedy predicts.

"They're going to be sitting there in Grant County, trying to pick up 10 votes," he says.

If a recount is ordered, it starts simultaneously in every county on the fourth day after it is requested, Kennedy says. The counties then have 13 days to get the job done. Each county's three-person Board of Canvassers is held responsible for recounts. The boards are allowed to hire people to assist in the recount.

In a recount, every single ballot is examined by hand and judgments are made, often with lawyers from both sides making arguments for and against. Many people do not follow the instructions to draw a clear line next to the name.

"It's amazing what they may do or not do," Kennedy says. "They may put check mark next to [a candidate's] name, or circle the name. So clearly, that's a vote for Walker or Barrett. They may write 'That's my man' next to the name."

Sometimes the intent is not so clear. In the Prosser-Kloppenburg election, some "people drew decorative animals" next to a name, Kennedy says. "What did that mean? It wasn't a clear indication of what the intent was."

How much would a recount cost? "We never got good figures for that," Kennedy says. The GAB requested cost estimates from each county, but most didn't respond.

"Part of the problem was [county clerks] thought it would be used for political purposes," Kennedy says. The cost is likely to vary greatly depending on the size of the county.

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