By James B. Kelleher
CHICAGO (Reuters) - A state government agency in Wisconsin finally made it official on Monday that Republican incumbent David Prosser won a hotly-contested race for a state Supreme Court seat.
After a lengthy statewide recount of nearly 1.5 million ballots, the Government Accountability Board said Prosser beat his challenger by just 7,004 votes in the race. The election was widely seen as a referendum on Republican Governor Scott Walker and the curbs on public sector collective bargaining he and his allies passed in the legislature.
The recount -- the first statewide in Wisconsin since 1989 -- was one measure of the continuing controversy Walker's union restrictions have sparked in the state.
Another measure of the continued controversy: Opponents and supporters of the union measure appear to have collected enough signatures to force nine state Senators to defend their seats this summer in special elections. Six of the targeted senators are Republicans who supported the anti-union law and three are Democrats who opposed it.
On Monday, the board said organizers of recall votes targeting three Republican state senators -- Luther Olsen, Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke -- had submitted more than enough valid signatures to force the trio to face summer elections.
The board also dismissed legal challenges Republicans had brought against the organizers targeting the three.
Formal certification of those three recall petition drives is expected next week, according to board spokesman Reid Magney, when the agency is also expected to sign off on the sufficiency of the signatures gathered to recall another three Republican senators as well as three Democrats.
In all, the board is expected to schedule nine recall elections next week, the largest recall wave in U.S. history.
Barring legal challenges, voters in nine Wisconsin state Senate districts will go to the polls on July 12.
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.
(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Greg McCune))