MADISON (AP) - Wisconsin Democrats moved closer to controlling the state Senate Monday after a recount showed Democrat John Lehman defeated Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard in last month's recall elections, though the incumbent said his campaign was pondering a lawsuit challenging the results.
A Lehman victory in Racine County's 21st Senate District would give Democrats a one-seat majority in the chamber until the November elections. Lehman issued a two-sentence statement saying he looks forward to joining his colleagues in the Senate. But Wanggaard refused to concede.
"I will spend the next couple of days reviewing the evidence, speaking with voters, supporters, and my family before deciding my next step," Wanggaard said in a statement.
The official canvas following the June 5 elections showed Lehman leading Wanggaard by 834 votes out of nearly 72,000 ballots cast. After suffering embarrassing defeats in five other recall races, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, took the bold step of declaring himself the majority leader even though Wanggaard never conceded.
Wanggaard made a formal request for a recount on June 15. Counting began on June 20 and wrapped up around midday Monday. The final tally showed Lehman ahead by 819 votes.
Democrats don't control the Senate yet, though. State law calls for the Government Accountability Board to wait five business days before it can certify the results and declare Lehman the official winner. Wanggaard, meanwhile, contends the election was marred by sloppy administration and has hinted he may file a lawsuit.
His campaign has made a variety of allegations of problems in the city of Racine, including poorly organized poll books, broken seals on ballot bags and voters failing to sign a supplemental poll list. Wanggaard's attorney, Jonathan Strasburg, declined to say whether the campaign would file a lawsuit but called the election administration in the city shocking.
"We're going to let a few days go by here and assess we're where at and wait for the dust to settle," Strasburg said.
Wanggaard has until July 10, the end of the GAB's certification waiting period, to file any challenge.
Neither Racine County Clerk Wendy Christensen nor Racine City Clerk Janice Johnson-Martin immediately returned messages.
Miller said in a statement that Wanggaard has clearly lost and should concede.
"Senator-elect Lehman won by more than 800 votes," Miller said. "It is time for Senator Wanggaard to concede and let the voters of the 21st Senate District have the senator they chose. Any attempt to delay with court cases is irresponsible and a waste of time and money, not to mention a denial of democracy."
Even if Democrats do win control of the chamber, they won't be able to do much with it for a while. The Senate isn't expected to convene again until January and Democrats will have to defend their new majority before then in November's elections.
Democrats forced Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Wanggaard and three other GOP senators into recalls earlier this year as payback for supporting Walker's push to strip most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights. One of the senators, Pam Galloway of Wausau, resigned rather than defend her seat, creating a 16-16 split between Democrats and Republicans. State election officials chose to allow the election in her district to go on regardless.
Republican Jerry Petrowski ultimately won Galloway's seat and all the other Republicans except Wanggaard easily beat back their challengers. Wanggaard's battle with Lehman was especially bitter; Lehman held the 21st Senate seat until Wanggaard defeated him in 2010.
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