With organizers coy about the number of signatures collected to recall Gov. Scott Walker, there has been speculation for weeks about the final number. There was even a running contest on a bulletin board at the Harmony Bar. But the number is now in. With much fanfare, recall organizers announced Tuesday that more than 1 million signatures would be submitted to the Government Accountability Board.
"This represents the most participated in and major recall effort in American history," Ryan Lawler, vice-chair of United Wisconsin, said at a Tuesday news conference in downtown Madison. "This represents a threshold so overwhelming that it is beyond legal challenge. It's a crystal-clear indication of how strong the appetite is to stop the damage and turmoil that Governor Walker has caused Wisconsin."
Organizers had to collect 540,208 valid signatures to recall Walker.
The petition drive to recall Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch also exceeded the required minimum; 845,000 signatures were collected to recall her.
Organizers on Tuesday also announced they had more than enough signatures to recall four Senate Republicans: 20,600 to recall Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau; more than 21,000 to recall Pam Galloway of Wausau; more than 21,000 to recall Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls; and over 24,000 to recall Van Wanggaard of Racine.
The number of signatures collected to recall Walker rivals the 1.2 million votes the governor received in his 2010 campaign. Forty-six percent of the 2010 electorate signed a recall petition for Walker, Lawler and others at the news conference noted.
Political science professor Barry Burden says the number of signatures gathered to recall Walker carries "absolutely huge symbolic value."
"It also suggests serious organizational prowess on the part of United Wisconsin," he says. "One million signatures mean they needed to collect almost 17,000 per day."
Republican Party of Wisconsin chairman Brad Courtney issued a statement on the recall results.
"We had no doubt the Democrats would be able to rally their left-wing supporters around this baseless and expensive recall effort," he said. "This shameful recall attempt of the governor will accomplish nothing but saddle Wisconsin taxpayers with over $9 million in unbudgeted costs. Regardless of what the radical left may believe, Wisconsin families will continue to stand with Gov. Walker, who has balanced a $3.6 billion budget deficit without raising taxes, and created thousands of new jobs."
The recall effort is historic. If an election is certified, it will be the first time a Wisconsin governor is recalled.
Calls to recall Walker date to February 2011, when the governor, barely a month after he took office, abruptly announced his plans to eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public workers. He refused to retract the proposal, even as 14 Democratic senators fled the state to avoid a vote and tens of thousands of people protested at the Capitol. It was during these protests that organizers began collecting a database of residents who supported recalling Walker.
United Wisconsin, a state political action committee, continued to collect names online. When the group started gathering signatures on Nov. 15, it was able to start with a database of 200,000 residents who had signed the group's online pledge to recall Walker.
The group, which joined forces with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, had 60 days to deliver signatures to the Government Accountability Board. (Party officials on Tuesday released a fact sheet on the recall efforts; a graphic showing the extent to which the number of signatures gathered to recall Walker and Kleefisch exceeded the minimum required; and another graphic comparing comparing recall efforts in other states.)
The agency initially had 31 days to review recall petitions, but it has already received a court extension of 30 days. It says it will likely need even more time because, in response to a court ruling, it is implementing new software to check for duplicative and fraudulent signatures.
The timing of recall elections will depend on court challenges to the signatures and the amount of time requested by the GAB to review them. 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.
Once the GAB certifies petitions, elections, according to state statute, are scheduled for the Tuesday of the sixth week following that determination. If more than one candidate challenges the officeholder, a primary would be held first, with a special election held four weeks later.