The Wisconsin Supreme Court justice election Tuesday between Justice David Prosser and JoAnne Kloppenburg came down to a 204-vote margin in favor of Kloppenburg, according to an unofficial vote count by the Associated Press.
State-wide voter turnout was 33 percent, or 1.5 million people, much higher than the 20 percent expected by Rodd Freitag, a political science professor at UW-Eau Claire.
The unofficial vote count, as reported by the AP, was 740,090 for Kloppenburg and 739,886 for Prosser, a 50 percent share for each candidate.
Freitag said that this type of turnout is especially unusual for an election of this type.
“For an April election that the marquee race is a justice race, past history would suggest 20 percent,” he said. “Past history would suggest that even when it appears that people are motivated and interested that it still comes close to the norm, so this is somewhat surprising.”
Thirty-four percent of eligible voters (about 27,000) cast ballots last night in Eau Claire County, marking a 9 percent increase in voter turnout, according to County Clerk Janet Loomis. The last election similar to this – which, among other things, included Justice of the Supreme Court — held in 2007, yielded a 25 percent voter turnout.
Eau Claire County also faced a lack of ballots in some polling places during the election process. Loomis said the county purchases paper ballots based on what they think turnout will be, but because there was higher voter turnout than expected, many polling locations ran out of paper ballots and had to use another kind of paper ballot. This led to a delay, as the alternative paper ballots had to be hand-counted.
“Generally if touch screen (voting) is used in combination with paper ballots, you shouldn’t run out,” Loomis said. She added that nobody was turned away from voting because polling stations offered a touch screen voting system.
Freitag said that the high turnout was a sign of voters’ disapproval of Gov. Scott Walker.
“I think it’s clear that the vote for Kloppenburg was a vote clearly against Walker or vote against Prosser who was a stand-in for Walker,” he said.
Senior Paydon Miller, chairman of the College Democrats, agreed, saying that because Kloppenburg was virtually unknown two months ago, there is a reason behind this sudden surge of support.
“The voters of Wisconsin have spoken loud and clear,” he said. “They’re sick of what Gov. Walker is trying to do, they’re sick of the power grab of Gov. Walker and of Madison Republicans, and this is just a statement on behalf of the voters.”
Student Senator Mark Morgan said that though he thought the election outcome was a product of the recent controversies concerning Walker, he would prefer that it was not.
“On the one hand, you love to see this kind of turnout,” he said, “but I think that the motivations behind why people are going out — because they want to elect a judge just to get back at a governor, or vice versa, they want to elect a judge just to show their support for a governor — I think that’s kind of disheartening given that judges, by and large, should just be objective interpreters of the law and not political vessels.”
Because the margin of the vote was within 0.5 percent of the total vote, Prosser can ask for a recount without having to pay. The recount would be funded by the state.
Freitag, Miller and Morgan all said they think it is almost guaranteed that Prosser will request a recount.
However, Morgan thought the effect of such an event on policy would be limited but it could change the political atmosphere of the state.
“I think on state policy it’s not going to make a lot of difference,” Morgan said, “but just in terms of the political environment and the coverage of the events around here, I think if we have a state-wide recall where everything was so close in so many areas, it’s going to be pretty interesting.”