The 17th Senate District finally has an official Democratic candidate.
The official winner is not the candidate who was declared the winner on primary election night Aug. 12.
Pat Bomhack of Spring Green was certified as the winner by the state Government Accountability Board Aug. 29 by 33 votes, 3,837–3,804, over Ernie Wittwer of Hillpoint.
The recount reversed the results of the Aug. 12 primary, in which Wittwer was reported as winning by two votes. Wittwer’s lead expanded to seven votes after the county canvasses within the following week.
Bomhack then requested a recount. Vote totals changed drastically after 110 votes went missing in Monroe and were not counted. The Green County canvassing board decided to take no action on the missing ballots, eliminating Wittwer’s 28-vote edge in Monroe.
One member of the canvassing board, Green County Democratic Party chair Barbara Woodriff, opposed not counting the ballots, and proposed recounting ballots from outside Monroe and certify the Aug. 12 results, which included the missing ballots. Woodriff’s request was denied by Green County Clerk Michael Doyle, an independent.
City of Monroe clerk Carol Stamm told the Wisconsin State Journal the ballots may have been placed next to a stack of unused ballots and both were destroyed. The State Journal also reported that an unidentified man, who was seen at the polling place after the polls closed, took the ballots, which has prompted an investigation by Monroe police.
Meanwhile, in Juneau County, an unsealed bag of ballots was found during the recount, though the Juneau County results were the same after the recount. Wittwer told the State Journal that absentee ballots were mishandled elsewhere.
The recount gave Bomhack five more votes in Grant County, three in Richland County and one in Sauk, while he lost 12 in Green County. Wittwer gained one vote in Lafayette County, lost one vote each in Sauk and Iowa counties, and lost 42 votes in Green County.
Wittwer said Friday he will not challenge the recount in court because the chances of overturning the results were “slim.”
Bomhack, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D–Wisconsin), started the year running for the 51st Assembly District Democratic nomination, until he changed his mind and ran for the 17th. That meant that Richard Cates Jr. was left unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the 51st.
Bomhack got the endorsement of state Rep. Chris Larson (D–Milwaukee), the state Democratic Party chair, in May.
That prompted Wittwer to charge that “The people of the 17th District and other rural districts have been marginalized by the Democratic power-brokers, who are only interested in big money. … Our citizens will not let the Madison hierarchy conspire against a candidate or determine who they should vote for. They like to make that decision on their own. Democracy is still alive and well in rural Wisconsin.”
Bomhack will face Rep. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green) for the race to succeed retiring Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center) Nov. 4. Cates will face Dodgeville Mayor Todd Novak for the race to succeed Marklein.