“All rise, the Court of Public Opinion has convened in the Case of the People vs. the David Prosser-JoAnne Kloppenburg race for Wisconsin Supreme Court; Judge John Q. Public presiding…”

Judge Public: “Let’s begin with some questions for our impartial and somewhat expert witness, who also happens to be the guy writing this column. So, tell me how 14,000 uncounted votes showed up in Waukesha County a day after unofficial returns were announced?”

Somewhat expert witness: “The key word there is ‘unofficial.’ All election returns in Wisconsin, as reported through the Associated Press on election night, are unofficial until there is a canvass – basically, a post-election certification – conducted in the days that follow. Overlooking 14,000 votes is hard to do, even in one of the state’s largest counties, and it’s distressing to everyone. But it can happen and the system is designed to catch mistakes later.”

Judge Public: “Isn’t this just a little too convenient? Waukesha County is notoriously Republican, and County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus is a Republican who once worked for Justice Prosser when he was a state legislator.”

Witness: “I’m not saying Nickolaus is a candidate for County Clerk of the Year – she’s been in the middle of ragged vote tallies and election audits before. But these votes all came from one location, the city of Brookfield, and it appears so far to be what Nickolaus said it was – human error. Her human error, to be precise. Also, it’s not as if Waukesha County’s voter turnout percentage was much higher than most Wisconsin counties. So, it’s very unlikely those votes mysteriously showed up after the polls closed Tuesday night. They were almost certainly there all along, and Nickolaus missed them.”

Judge Public: “OK, I understand the difference between unofficial returns and canvassed results. But do these kinds of initial reporting errors happen a lot?”

Witness: “In an election in which more than 1.5 million votes were cast, there will be mistakes in reporting unofficial returns. In fact, changes have also been reported through canvassing in Milwaukee, Winnebago, Crawford, Shawano, Vernon, Rusk, Iowa, Door, Portage and Grant counties, so far. The discrepancies were more noticeable in this election because the reported margin between Prosser and Kloppenburg was so razor thin.”

Judge Public: “I would like to hope we have a pretty good election system in place. Few things are more important to our democracy than credible elections. Still, you’re telling me mistakes happen. Why?”

Witness: “It’s not a perfect system by any means. While most of Wisconsin’s voting precincts use optical scan ballots that are extremely reliable, there can be errors in some voting methods, or in the transcription of the results from the precincts to the clerks. Remember: Most poll workers in Wisconsin are volunteers, many are retired, and the same people who count the votes after 8 p.m. are usually the same folks who were there when the polls opened at 7 a.m. People get tired.”

Judge Public: “If the official canvass shows Prosser still in the lead by more or less 7,500 votes, does that mean there won’t be a statewide recount?”

Witness: “Frankly, the stakes are so high that some sort of recount is probably a foregone conclusion. The hired guns are already on their way. The only question is who pays for it. It will be the taxpayers if the results are within one-half of 1 percent of the total votes cast. It will be Kloppenburg if it falls outside that zone.”

Judge Public: “I’m wondering: Should we elect judges in the first place? Many states appoint their Supreme Court judges, or at least appoint them initially and hold elections if they seek a second term. Isn’t Wisconsin simply asking for trouble by electing non-partisan judges in races that turn out to be expensive and partisan in tone?”

Witness: “That’s a question that could only be settled by changing Wisconsin’s Constitution, which is a lengthy process in itself. Ask yourself this: Are the 1.5 million people who voted Tuesday likely to give up their right to do so in future court elections?”

Judge Public: “Is it too late to blame the news media for all of this?”

Witness: “Of course, not! Just ask the radio talk show guys, liberal and conservative. That kangaroo court never seems to adjourn.”

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, and previously worked as the newspaper’s chief political reporter.