An official canvass this week showed incumbent Racine Republican Van Wanggaard trailing Democratic challenger John Lehman by 834 votes, or 1.2 percent of the nearly 72,000 votes cast.
Democrats had called on Wanggaard to concede, saying a recount would only waste taxpayer money and delay the inevitable. But Wanggaard's campaign said it was concerned about reports of voting irregularities and wanted to ensure the outcome was accurate.
The state Senate currently has 16 Democrats and 16 Republicans, meaning the winner of the Wanggaard-Lehman race will give his party majority control. The victory, however, could be largely symbolic. The Legislature isn't expected to convene again until January, and the November elections could cause the balance of political power to shift once again.
Still, a reversal on the recount would be bitter loss for Lehman and Democrats following a disappointing recall effort. Democrats came up empty in five other recall races last week, including a failed attempt to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
The June 5 recalls were prompted by outrage over a law that was pushed by Walker and passed by the Republican-led Legislature. The measure stripped most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights and the anger was fueled by the resulting partisan divide.
Wanggaard's petition to the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections, said he had been told about a number of possible problems on election day. He said several election observer challenges weren't properly documented, voters were allowed to register with improper proof of residence and people voted in more than one location.
Wanggaard said in his petition that seeking a recount was not about delaying the outcome or maintaining power.
"Like many of you, I too want to move on from the bitterness that has divided this state as a result of the recall elections," he said. But, he added that with "so many people suspicious of the election result, bitterness and division will only grow if the results are not recounted."
The Racine County sheriff's office said Wednesday that it was investigating reports of voting irregularities in the recall election after someone claimed to have found "suspicious voter registration documents" in a Racine trash bin.
Zac Kramer, the executive director of the State Senate Democratic Committee, said he was disappointed Wanggaard's "last act as a senator" will cost taxpayers money.
"It's ironic that after all the talk from Republicans about moving Wisconsin forward, they contradict themselves once again by these relentless political games," he said in a statement on behalf of the Lehman campaign.
The Racine County clerk did not immediately return a message asking how much a recount might cost.
Senate Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald said he and his GOP Senate colleagues supported Wanggaard's request.
Based on the number of votes cast and the margin separating the candidates, the recount will cost Wanggaard $5 for each of the 137 wards, or $685. Accountability board spokesman Mike Haas said Wanggaard's campaign paid the money when it filed its recall petition.
Taxpayers will be on the hook for any remainder of the recount bill.
The elections board will issue an order Monday for the recount to begin Wednesday at 9 a.m., Haas said. The county will then have until July 2 to complete the task.
Once the count is done, the candidates will have until July 10 to appeal. If there's no appeal the GAB will make the outcome final by certifying the election, most likely on the same day, Haas said.
Lehman, a former high school history teacher, held the 21st District Senate seat until Wanggaard defeated him in 2010. If he survives the recount, he will have 10 days to take the oath of office.
The official canvass found Lehman had 36,351 votes, or 50.6 percent, while Wanggaard received 35,517 votes, or 49.4 percent.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.