In a stunning development that instantly changed the race for the state Supreme Court, a county clerk's error on election night added 7,582 votes for incumbent Justice David Prosser over challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg.
The additional votes almost certainly will give Prosser the victory in the heated race for the high court. As of early afternoon Thursday, Kloppenburg had been ahead in the race, according to totals compiled by the Associated Press.
The additional votes for Prosser were found after it was determined that all the votes for the City of Brookfield were not included in the initial counts that the county provided to the Associated Press, which has been maintaining a statewide tally of votes.
The revised Waukesha County figures show Prosser with 11,008 more votes than were initially recorded for him, while Kloppenburg picked up 3,426 more votes. The net result is an additional 7,582 votes for Prosser.
Earlier Thursday, unofficial results compiled by the Associated Press had Kloppenburg winning by 244 votes.
Kloppenburg issued a statement Thursday evening saying she will be requesting all relevant records surrounding the snafu.
"Wisconsin voters as well as the Kloppenburg for Justice Campaign deserve a full explanation of how and why these 14,000 votes from an entire City were missed," the statement said.
"We are confident that election officials in Waukesha County will fulfill these requests as quickly as possible so that both our campaign and the people of Wisconsin can fully understand what happened and why," Kloppenburg said. "Just as Assistant Attorney General Kloppenburg has run to restore confidence in the court, Wisconsin residents also deserve to have full confidence in election results."
Prosser said he was "encouraged" by the changing vote totals.
"Our confidence is high, and we will continue to monitor with optimism, and believe that the positive results will hold," Prosser said in a statement. "We’ve always maintained faith in the voters and trust the election officials involved in the canvasing will reaffirm the lead we’ve taken.”
At a press conference Thursday evening, a tearful Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus accepted blame for the error.
Nickolaus said she forgot to press "save" while entering the numbers into a database and because the countywide turnout was so large, the missing votes didn't get noticed. On election night she reported the countywide voter turnout was 42 percent. The revised numbers adding Brookfield's votes increases the countywide turnout to 47 percent, she said.
Nickolaus said on election night she enters the numbers into a Microsoft Access program and then prints them out for the media. Because she didn’t save the numbers, they didn’t get transferred to the unofficial results and the lack of Brookfield votes were not discovered until the canvass took place.
“It’s important to stress this isn’t a case of extra votes or extra ballots being found,” she said. “This is error, which I apologize for, which is common in this process.”
Nickolaus said the county's Board of Canvassers has been meeting since noon Wednesday and the error was found Wednesday. However, she didn’t report it until Thursday after verifying the error was made.
Waukesha County Executive of the missed votes.
“It is an unfortunate situation, but the most important thing is that every vote was counted and was verified and in the hands of the Government Accountability Board," said Vrakas, who like Nickolaus is an active Republican.
Ramona Kitzinger, vice chairman of the Waukesha County Democratic Party and the appointed Democrat on the Waukesha County Board of Canvassers, said she was confident the revised vote totals were accurate, despite the blow to Kloppenburg's bid.
"We went over everything and made sure all the numbers jibed up and they did," Kitzinger said.
After news of the increased Prosser votes leaked but before Nickolaus' press conference, Brookfield City Clerk Kristine Schmidt said she had not been notified by the county of any vote reporting problems.
"The votes that I had on Tuesday night, the votes I reported to the county clerk on Tuesday night, and the votes I turned over to the county clerk on Wednesday were the same numbers in each instance," Schmidt said.
"What they did with those votes afterward I can’t answer," she added.
After watching Nickolaus' press conference, Schmidt said in an interview that she empathized with the error. But she was not happy Nickolaus never told Brookfield about the snafu, even when Schmidt talked to Nickolaus earlier Thursday. Schmidt said she also called the county clerk's office shortly before the press conference but was not told what happened.
"It can be considered a simple mistake, a mistake with wide-ranging results," Schmidt said.
"I was a little perturbed that I was not informed as to what had happened," the city clerk said.
Schmidt said when she talked to Nickolaus earlier Thursday, the county clerk had apologized for being short.
"She said that she was sorry and she was probably upset, that she was having a horrible day, probably the worst day of her life," Schmidt said. "I said I was really sorry to hear that. It must be really difficult to do that (canvass) with people hanging over your heads."
But Nickolaus never mentioned to Schmidt that the county failed to count Brookfield's votes.
On election night, the City of Brookfield reported that Prosser received 10,859 votes from city residents, or 76 percent of the vote, compared to the 3,456 votes cast for challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. posted about 12:30 a.m. election night.
Schmidt said her office also posted the results on the city's web site before going home on election night.
Nickolaus said that the Waukesha County voting results also changed in two other communities: New Berlin and the Town of Lisbon. The results for New Berlin's Ward 12 was reported as 37 votes for Prosser but the voting machine tape showed 237 votes.
In the Town of Lisbon, a "typing error" reduced the vote totals for both candidates, decreasing Prosser's total by 206 votes and Kloppenburg's by 35 votes.
Nickolaus said she hasn't consulted a lawyer about this issue and would not comment further on potential for legal ramifications because of the error.
Nickolaus came under fire from the Waukesha County Board in the past year for putting election information on her personal computer instead of using county equipment. She said at her press conference that the Brookfield votes error occurred on the county system and had nothing to do with the issue related to her use of a private computer.
Also Thursday in Brookfield, a resident expressed concern that her vote was not counted by the machine after she initially marked her ballot with a red pen she found in the polling station, according to the city clerk's office.
Schmidt said, however, she believes the vote was counted because the machine otherwise would have kicked the ballot back out with an error message.
The woman came to City Hall Thursday to report concerns about her vote Tuesday at the Dixon Elementary School polling site. According to Schmidt:
The woman said she used a red pen she found at the voting station but then stopped and asked poll workers if red would register. They told her to switch to a black pen and write with black over the red marks. The machine accepted the ballot, but the woman said she did not hear the usual beep that sounds after the ballot enters the machine.
Schmidt said the site might have been too noisy to hear the beep.