The recalls in Wisconsin are about to get down to business.
In memos posted online Friday, the staff at the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections in the state, indicated that the recalls will likely be triggered — with the next issue being exactly when to hold them.
In four key cases targeting Republican state senators — Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, plus Sens. Pam Galloway, Terry Moulton and Van Wanggaard — the staff recommends officially determining that the signatures thresholds to trigger recalls have been met. (The staff did accept some of the challenges that the incumbents had made against signatures — by excluding some signatures from the fully-verified column — but not enough to prevent a recall from proceeding.)
The next issue, however, has to do with the big main events — the statewide recalls targeting Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch — and how to finalize the review of those petitions. And after that, the board must work out the precise issue of timing.
Under state law, the GAB originally had 31 days to review the petitions. In late January, Dane County Judge Richard Niess granted the GAB a further 30 days, for 61 days total through March 19.
This move was widely expected going into the recall, and was fully part of the GAB’s planned timeline, as a result of the sheer volume of signatures involved — the Dems had submitted over a million signatures for Walker alone, nearly twice the required threshold of just over 540,000, or 25 percent of the total number of voters in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
The March 19 deadline also meant that the primary would be held on May 1, and the general election on May 29 — with the latter coming right after Memorial Day, which would wreak havoc on local governments.
At this point, the GAB’s stated goal is to avoid conflicting too much with the various preparations and post-election activities that the local clerks are already required to do, for both the local elections and Republican primary in the spring, and the party primaries for Congress and state legislature in August. In addition, they want to avoid having the election right up against Memorial Day weekend, with which the current extension saddles them. And they also want to consolidate all the state Senate races with the statewide recalls, in order to significantly reduce the costs of the Senate races.
Optimally, they find this works out to asking for a further two-week extension — for primaries on May 15, and the general election on June 12.
Notably, this was was the third scenario, out of five potential choices, in a memo that the GAB sent to local clerks this week.
At the same time, though, the GAB also acknowledges that they would again have to go to court, to seek permission for any of the dates beyond the current court order from their past extension.
The key quote from the final page — out of 195 total — of the memo:
Under the current timetable established by the court, G.A.B. needs to make a final determination of sufficiency no later than March 19, 2012. The agency cannot meet this deadline. As described in the Workload section of this memorandum, the staff cannot complete their work until at least March 30, 2012. The workload described is based on what is required by statute and the order of Judge Davis issued on January 5, 2012.
Given the cost issues related to conducting as many two statewide recalls and four Senate recalls, the Board needs to advocate for all recall events to be scheduled on the same date. Given the possible conflicts with an election event occurring near Memorial Day, the Board needs to advocate for a deadline to complete its work no later than April 6, 2012.
Looking at the logistics described above, the only feasible times for certifying recall elections are the weeks of March 26 and April 2, 2012. In discussions with county clerks on March 6, 2012 at their conference, the overwhelming majority preferred an election schedule of May 15/June 12. This provided the most flexibility for addressing post Spring Election requirements without the issues related to an election event too close to Memorial Day. We have solicited feedback from municipal clerks as well. The responses were not available at the time of the preparation of this memorandum.
The staff is putting in extraordinary hours to complete its work by March 30, 2012. We will be able to provide a more accurate estimate of our remaining workload at the March 12, 2012 meeting.
When asked for comment, state GOP spokesman Ben Sparks told TPM: “A statewide recall election comes as a significant burden to the state and to local governments throughout Wisconsin, with one state-wide recall election costing more than $9 million, not including the cost of a primary. We urge the GAB to continue its efforts to ensure that these recall elections are held on the same date to reduce the growing burden and cost to Wisconsin taxpayers.”
The state Democrats did not immediately return our request for comment.
The GAB staff also rejected an argument that the GOPers have made, saying that any recalls should have to be done for the new post-redistricting lines. Based on the construction of the redistricting law, the GAB has applied the old boundaries to the recalls, and the Dems have targeted those lines in their petition drives. Finally, a legislative effort by Republicans to change the law stalled out when a moderate Republican legislator who holds the balance of power in the chamber gave it a thumbs-down.
The four state Senate recalls also mean that for the second year in a row, control of the chamber will be up for grabs via recall elections.
Wisconsin Democrats last year, faced with a 19-14 Republican majority in the state Senate, attempted to mount a backlash against Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-public employee union legislation, by recalling their way to a majority. However, they were hampered by the fact that the only recall-eligible districts were in the half of the Senate ones where the incumbent had last won their terms in 2008, even during that year’s Democratic wave. The seats elected in 2010, when the Dems lost their majority, were not recall-eligible until one year into the term, wit the same going for Walker himself.
In the end, Democrats were able to pick up two seats, just short of the magic number of three, for a narrow 17-16 Republican majority. Out of the recall campaigns that were waged by both parties, four incumbent Republicans and three Democrats retained their seats, while two Republicans lost to Democratic challengers.