Nick Milroy, the Democratic incumbent in the 73rd Assembly District, eked out a narrow victory to hold onto the seat, according to preliminary election night results.
Only 139 votes of 33,103 cast separated the assemblyman from his Republican challenger, Keith Kern.
Kern led the vote total in every precinct except the towns of Maple, Parkland and Summit, the villages of Oliver and Superior, and the city of Superior. While Kern held the lead in Superior from same-day voters, the tide turned when more than 9,000 mail-in and in-person absentee ballots were tallied late Tuesday, Nov. 3.
With only 0.004% of all votes cast separating the candidates, Kern said he still needed to discuss a potential recount of the ballots with his election committee.
“This campaign has been about hard work,” Kern said in a statement issued Thursday morning. “Thank you to everyone who joined me on this journey. The results of this razor-thin election have not been certified, are too close to call, and therefore are not official. Until that happens and we understand what the final tally is, and whether that changes the margin or the path forward, I will continue to be that person you know me as: A fighter for what I believe in and a strong voice interested in bringing Madison's attention to the 73rd District.”
Under Wisconsin’s election laws, the second-place finisher can seek a recount of the ballots if the results are within 1 percentage point. The law was made more restrictive after the 2016 presidential recount in Wisconsin, when fewer than 23,000 votes out of about 3 million cast gave Donald Trump a victory in the state. Candidate Jill Stein, who carried 1% of the vote in the 2016 presidential election, forced the recount.
There is no automatic recount in Wisconsin, but the close vote tally could prompt one.
In a Wisconsin election with more than 4,000 votes cast, a filing fee is required only when the difference from the leading candidate is greater than 0.25%, according to the Wisconsin Election Commission’s recount manual. The filing fee covers the estimated cost of conducting the recount and must be paid before the recount begins. The petition must be filed no later than 5 p.m. on the third business day following the election canvass.
Milroy carried 50.2% of the vote to Kern’s 49.8%, a difference of .4 of a percentage point.
Even if there is a recount, Milroy said he is calling the result a victory.
“All of the votes have been counted,” Milroy said. “They’ll be recounted. We’ve gone through recounts in Wisconsin before. It might change a handful of votes. but we’ve never seen an election with a 100-plus vote change.”
In the statewide presidential recount in 2016, Trump gained 131 votes over Hillary Clinton when the nearly 3 million ballots were recounted.
This story was updated at 8:36 a.m. Nov. 5 with an additional statement from candidate Keith Kern. It was originally posted at 8:51 a.m. Nov. 4 and updated at 3:54 p.m. Nov. 4 with statements from the candidates.