Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to initiate a federal investigation into the questionable handling of disputed vote records in the state’s Waukesha County.
“For our democracy to endure, we, the people, must have faith in its laws and system of justice, including faith that our elections for public office are fair and free from any manipulation or tampering,” Baldwin wrote to Holder. “Following this week’s election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, numerous constituents have contacted me expressing serious doubt that this election was a free and fair one. They fear, as I do, that political interests are manipulating the results.”
Baldwin is not exaggerating when she refers to “numerous constituents… expressing serious doubt that this election was a free and fair one.”
The Supreme Court contest between incumbent Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg was seen by many as a proxy referendum on the policies of Governor Scott Walker. That might not have been entirely fair to Prosser or Kloppenburg, but it was a reality that made the officially nonpartisan contest an incredibly intense and at times bitter one.
The turnout reflected the passions that were in play. Close to 1.5 million Wisconsinites went to the polls April 5 in unprecedented turnout for such an election. Kloppenburg, unknown six months ago, given no chance six weeks ago, wrestled Prosser to an electoral tie on election night, when the Associated Press declared the race “too close to call.” The next day, when what were thought to be final totals were tabulated, the challenger was declared the winner by 204 votes.
A recount was all but certain.
Then, a day later, Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, a former Republican legislative aide who once worked with Prosser, announced that she had forgotten to tabulate the votes of the very-Republican county’s second-largest city, Brookfield. Those votes gave Prosser a lead of more than 7.300 votes – perhaps enough to avoid the state-authorized recount that can be requested in races where the difference between the candidates is less than 0.5 percent.
The developments in Waukesha were greeted with immense skepticism by Kloppenburg backers, and rightly so. Had the situation been reversed, with a big stack of Kloppenburg votes suddenly turning up in a traditionally Democratic county such as Dane or Milwaukee, there would have been loud and sustained objections.
In such a contested circumstance, it makes total sense to seek the intervention of federal authorities, who frequently step in when there are questions about whether an election was conducted properly.