Yesterday, Wisconsin held an election for one of the seats on its Supreme Court that has widely been viewed as a proxy fight over the union reform law enacted last month by that state's legislature and Governor Scott Walker (R). In an outcome that's probably the last thing that Wisconsin residents want right now, that election appears to have ended in a near-tie.
Challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg (D) has a 204-vote lead over incumbent David Prosser (R), based on the AP's unofficial tally of all precincts. That's out of nearly 1.5 million votes cast, so the election is well within the margin where the losing party is entitled to an automatic recount without having to pay for it.
There's a lot of ink being spilled on this, but I want to highlight one fact that hasn't gotten a lot of attention: Wisconsin's last statewide recount resulted in an adjustment of the vote margin by 448 votes. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
The last time a statewide recount occurred was in 1989 and involved a voter referendum rather than a race between candidates, Kennedy said. The referendum involved a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have allowed state officials to provide income tax credits on property taxes or sales taxes paid by taxpayers, Kennedy said.
The proposal lost by 650 votes in the first official count and after the recount ended up still losing by the wider margin of 1,098 votes, he said.
Of course, as in that example, recounts don't always go in the direction of the trailing party. But given the reasonably high likelihood that a 204-vote margin could be overturned in a recount, and the charged political atmosphere in Wisconsin, I wouldn't expect Prosser to give up quickly. A protracted fight significantly reduces the hope that politics in Wisconsin might soon move on from the union fight to other, less-acrimonious matters, like the need to enact an actual FY 2012 budget.