Ernie Wittwer looks on as a board has a discussion on 110 ballots that went missing from an election in the 17th Senate District Democratic primary against Wittwer and Pat Bomhack, at the Green County Courthouse in Monroe, Wis., Wednesday, August 27, 2014. Amber Arnold -- State Journal

By certifying an incomplete result in the Democratic primary for the open District 17 state Senate seat, the Green County canvassing board failed in its most important duty: ensuring that election results reflect the clear intention of the voters.

That failure is a serious matter, and if the state Government Accountability Board does not address it then the courts should do so.

Why? Because, without an intervention, there is a very real chance that the Green County canvassing board’s decision — as opposed to that of the voters — could make the loser of the primary into the “winner.”

An exceptionally close finish in the Aug. 12 primary led to the recount, which is no problem. Recounts are healthy; they allow officials to clarify the precise intent of voters in even the most tightly contested races.

Unfortunately, instead of providing clarification, the recount complicated everything.

A set of definitional ballots appears to have been lost in Green County, a key part of the southwestern Wisconsin Senate district where Democrats Pat Bomhack and Ernie Wittwer were separated by just a handful of votes on primary night.

An initial canvass put Wittwer ahead by seven votes.

Bomhack requested the recount — and with such a narrow division, that's both his right and responsibility.

Unfortunately, Green County Clerk Michael Doyle says election officials have lost 110 ballots that were cast in the county, where in the initial counting Wittwer had a substantial lead: 523-337.

The lost ballots — which were cast in the city of Monroe — were not all marked for Wittwer. But the “result” certified by the Green County canvassing board took 40 votes from Wittwer’s total and 12 from Bomhack’s total.

That change could well tip the overall count in Bomhack’s favor — depending on the recount results from other counties.

But every indication is that a plurality of voters favored Wittwer, not Bomhack.

When the three-member canvassing board met, Barbara Woodriff, who sits on the board as the representative of the Green County Democratic Party, opposed the approach taken by Green County Clerk Michael Doyle, the chair of the canvassing body.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Woodriff “voted against recounting the ballots without accounting for the missing ballots, which she said would disenfranchise 110 voters in Monroe, or one in every eight voters.”

That is the right concern.

Woodriff proposed that the board recount ballots from polling places outside the city of Monroe and then suggested that the board certify the official tally from Aug. 12, which was based on a count that included the missing ballots.

Yet, according to the State Journal, “Doyle dismissed Woodriff’s request and said the board was following the advice of the Government Accountability Board.”

If that is the case, then the GAB is wrong.

Going forward, the GAB can and should clean this mess up — in cooperation with Green County officials.

If they do not do so, then legal action is not merely appropriate. It is necessary.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

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