Wisconsin Supreme Court blocks election challenge in unanimous decision

The Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously blocked an attempt to re-examine ballots in a narrowly decided 2020 referendum, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported, in a case that could have wide-ranging implications.

The decision ends over a year of challenges over a contentious Racine, Wisconsin proposal that passed by only five votes.

The school referendum will cost taxpayers roughly $1 billion over 30 years.

“At issue in the case decided Tuesday was whether those challenging election results can force courts to reexamine ballots after they have already been recounted,” the Journal-Sentinel reported.

“The justices sided with lower courts that determined they could not.”

“We conclude that the circuit court competently and comprehensively reviewed each of (the) factual and legal challenges to the recount conducted by the Board of Canvassers,” wrote Justice Patience Roggensack in the court’s decision.

While the case may seem minor in the larger scheme of things, the repercussions could have outsized significance in a swing state.

The referendum in question, held in April of 2020, originally passed by the slimmest of margins, 16,748 to 16,743.

In a recount, both sides lost votes, but the yeas still carried the day by a five-vote margin, 16,715 in favor and 16,710 against.

However, the vote was held during the pandemic, which upended the rules. Racine County Circuit Judge Michael Piontek ruled that the coronavirus-necessitated regulations were consistently applied, however, and that recount observers had equal opportunities to view and challenge ballots.

Those on the losing side appealed because Piontek hadn’t ruled on their demand to “examine the ballots” and “have those votes recounted in their presence in open court.”

According to the Racine Journal-Times, the state Supreme Court took on the case because it raised a novel argument about recounts, particularly in an era of increased mail-in balloting.

State statute 7.54 reads: “In all contested election cases, the contesting parties have the right to have the ballots opened and to have all errors of the inspectors, either in counting or refusing to count any ballot, corrected by the board of canvassers or court deciding the contest. The ballots and related materials may be opened only in open session of the board of canvassers or in open court and in the presence of the official having custody of them.”

“Those seeking another recount argued that, since they demanded a recount in open court, one must be carried out in addition to the one carried out by the Board of Canvassers,” the Journal-Times reported.

“Attorneys representing RUSD disagreed, and the state Supreme Court found in favor of RUSD. They said that since one or the other type of recount was carried out, the statute was followed.”

Wisconsin was taken by Donald Trump in the 2016 election and Joe Biden in the 2020 race, both by thin margins. In addition, Sen. Ron Johnson’s re-election bid  promises to be one of the most hotly-contested races of the midterms.