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Thursday, September 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 53.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Timing of Walker and Wisconsin Senate recall elections uncertain
Challenges, primaries could push voting day into August or beyond

Credit:Phil Ejercito

Although recall signatures are due to the Government Accountability Board by Jan. 17, it's anybody's guess just when there would be a vote to boot Gov. Scott Walker or any other recalled candidate from office. Yes, there are statutory deadlines and timelines for verifying signatures and scheduling elections, but a number of factors could extend those timelines by weeks, even months.

Just taking expected delays into account, it's highly unlikely that any election would be held before late April or early May, says Mike Haas, a staff attorney with the GAB. At least three variables are in play: whether a court grants the GAB the extension it plans to seek to review and verify recall petitions; whether the board's decisions on the petitions are challenged in court; and whether primaries are scheduled.

There is one more complication: Lawsuits are pending on whether recall elections should be held within the old or new electoral districts created in the recent redistricting process led by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The GAB says current law requires that the old maps be in effect for any recall elections, and Haas says a federal court decision on the matter is expected in February.

In addition to the recall efforts against Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, signatures are also being gathered to recall Republican senators Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, Van Wanggaard of Racine, Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls and Pam Galloway of Wausau.

The GAB has 31 days to review petitions to determine whether sufficient numbers of signatures were collected, but the agency has already stated it will likely ask for a court-ordered extension of 30 days.

Officeholders have 10 days from when petitions are filed to challenge any signatures. The recall committees then have five days to respond to any challenges, and officeholders are given two days to file a reply.

Haas says that the agency will have a two-step process for reviewing petitions; that is, two sets of eyes will look at every signature.

Once the GAB board votes to certify whether enough valid signatures have been collected to recall Walker or the other officeholders, elections, according to state statute, would be scheduled for the Tuesday of the sixth week following that determination. If the board gets 60 days to review signatures, and makes its decision on March 19, the earliest an election could be held is April 30, says Haas. If more than one candidate challenges the officeholder, however, that election would be a primary, and the special election would be held four weeks later.

Any recall election will make an already hectic election year even more crowded. Primaries for county board, city council and circuit court seats are Feb. 21; the spring general election is April 3, the same date as the presidential primary. There's no summer break, either.

Partisan primaries for the state Legislature and Congress, previously held in the fall, are now scheduled for the second Tuesday in August. That leaves "the window between April 3 and the second Tuesday in August to accommodate recall elections," says Haas.

Haas says the board does not have the flexibility to simply piggyback recall elections on scheduled voting days. "The statutes are specific on when the election should be scheduled," he says.

In gearing up for the delivery of hundreds of thousands of recall signatures in January, the Government Accountability Board sought and secured an offsite location for verifying the petitions. Haas says the site will not be disclosed until security measures are worked out.

"We just would not be able to handle that volume of paperwork and the number of additional staff at this location," Haas says of the agency's offices at 212 E. Washington Ave.

The GAB, which expects it might be asked to review close to 1.5 million signatures among all the recall efforts, plans to hire 50 temporary workers to assist staff with the task.

Paul Stroede was hoping to be one of those temp workers. A freelance artist, he has the time, could use some cash and was curious about the process.

Stroede, a former art director for Isthmus, inquired with the GAB and received an email directing him to apply to "at least one" of four Madison-area temporary agencies that have been contracted to screen and supply workers.

He was told he would need to first complete the agency's own hiring processes before even being considered for the position. He would also have to undergo a criminal background check and qualify as "nonpartisan." That is, he could not have run for partisan office in the last 12 months, made a contribution to a partisan political campaign in the last 12 months, or circulated or signed a recall petition.

Stroede says he has never given money to any political candidate or run for office. But he did sign a petition to recall Walker. Stroede argues that makes him a safe bet for the job.

"As a person who wants Walker gone, why would I do anything to jeopardize that?" he says. "I want it to be perfect."

Restricting the pool to people who have not signed Walker's recall petition, particularly in Dane County, presents another problem, says Stroede.

"People who don't sign are obviously Walker backers," he says. "That also indicates a bias."

Haas says he has heard similar arguments. But he says that the training provided the temp workers and the oversight by GAB staff will ensure a fair process. The GAB is a nonpartisan agency, and its employees are statutorily prohibited from making contributions to partisan candidates a year before being hired and while working there, he adds. Agency policy also prohibits staffers from circulating recall petitions or signing them.

Haas says the agency wants to avoid all potential conflicts of interest and did not want to put temporary workers in the position of reviewing their own signatures.

But he says the GAB is trying to accommodate people, like Stroede, who might want to observe the signature review process. "They would not be able to look at or handle the petitions but would be able to see the process," he says.

"We're trying to balance openness and transparency with security issues," he adds, "making sure pages don't disappear or get destroyed during the process."

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