The race for Wisconsin Supreme Court produced one of the closest results in recent state history. With an unofficial count of the more than 1.2 million votes cast in Tuesday’s election for the open seat, Judge Brian Hagedorn, a favorite of conservatives, leads Judge Lisa Neubauer, the chief judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals who drew substantial backing from liberals, by roughly 6,000 votes.
That’s a 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent lead for Hagedorn. He says: "The people of Wisconsin have spoken and our margin of victory is insurmountable.” Neubauer’s team took a different view on election night, announcing: "We are almost assuredly headed to a recount. We are going to make sure every vote is counted. Wisconsinites deserve to know we have had a fair election and that every vote is counted."
A 6,000-vote lead is tough to overcome. But we disagree with Hagedorn’s suggestion that it doesn’t make sense for Neubauer to pursue a recount.
Neubauer and her aides will have to decide how they want to proceed. But if they request an official recount, the ask should be respected as appropriate, well intended and good for Wisconsin.
First off, the margin now stands within the range where state law allows for a recount. After a review of the ballots to establish the official count, it could get closer. So talk of a recount is reasonable based on the numbers.
Beyond that, we believe, as we have frequently stated over the years, that recounts of votes and official reviews of close races are vital to maintaining confidence in national, state and local elections.
When elections produce a close or controversial result, it is appropriate for candidates who appear to be on the losing end of the count to ask questions and to pursue remedies. No one expects the candidates who are ahead on election night to object to the count; they are too busy claiming the “mandates” they believe have been accorded them.
It falls to candidates who hold out a small hope for a reversal of fortune to demand that every vote be counted and counted accurately. This is one of the reasons states allow for recounts and reviews of voting.
Unfortunately, in an age of hyperpartisan spin by candidates, campaigns and partisans on all sides, there is a tendency to see demands for recounts as the burdensome expressions of sore losers. Sometimes they are that. But for Wisconsinites who concern themselves with the functioning of elections that confer authority on executives, legislators and jurists, recounts are understood as fundamental underpinnings of democracy. They only rarely overturn initial results. But even when they simply confirm those results, they give us all greater confidence in the infrastructure of Wisconsin democracy.
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