MADISON, Wis (Reuters) - Wisconsin's election oversight agency said on Wednesday that the challenger in the close race for a seat on the state Supreme Court has asked for a recount.
The April 5 high court contest was widely seen as a referendum on the state's new Republican leadership and the curbs they have imposed on public sector collective bargaining, which drew national attention as other states weighed similar moves.
In a statement, the Government Accountability Board said it was "prepared to move forward with a statewide recount of votes for Supreme Court Justice, as requested by the Kloppenburg campaign today."
The announcement came just minutes before JoAnne Kloppenburg, who trails incumbent David Prosser by just 7,316 of the nearly 1.5 million votes in the closely watched race, was scheduled to hold a press conference in Madison outlining her plans.
Wednesday was the deadline for her to request a recount.
Early unofficial returns in the statewide race gave Kloppenburg, an assistant state attorney specializing in environmental affairs, a bare 204 vote statewide lead over Prosser, a former Republican legislator.
But two days after the polls closed, the top vote counter in Waukesha County said she had neglected to include more than 14,000 votes in some of her tallies -- an oversight that resulted in a net gain of more than 7,000 votes for Prosser in the county. Kloppenburg backers cried foul.
Races for the high court are normally low-profile affairs. But this year, the contest took on added significance because it was the first statewide race since the Republican-controlled legislature approved a proposal by Governor Scott Walker to restrict public workers union rights.
Several legal challenges to the law are making their way toward the state's top court -- adding to the election's stakes.
The high court currently has a 4-3 conservative majority. If Kloppenburg had upset Prosser, an event that seemed possible a week ago but now seems improbable, it would have flipped the court and given opponents of the anti-union measure hope the law would be overturned.
Walker has defended the union restrictions, which eliminate most bargaining rights for public sector workers and require them to pay more for benefits, as a needed fiscal reform to help the state close a budget gap.
Critics saw the bill, which also eliminates automatic deduction of union dues, as a Republican attack on the single biggest source of funding for the Democratic Party.
Earlier this year the struggle over the issue made Wisconsin a focal point of a national debate over labor relations, with massive protests at the state capital and protracted maneuvering in the state legislature.
Several states are considering proposals similar to Wisconsin, and union supporters fear the laws curbing collective bargaining could spread across the country.
(Reporting by James Kelleher and Jeff Mayers; Editing by Jerry Norton)
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