Wisconsin Democrats Submitting Recall-Walker Petitions Today

It’s the big day in Wisconsin: After two months of collecting petitions, state Democrats will officially turn in a vast number of signatures collected in order to trigger a recall election against Gov. Scott Walker.In December, the Democrats announced that they had collected over 507,000 signatures in 30 days, getting very close to the legal threshold of just over 540,000 signatures in 60 days. (The party also told TPM at the time that this 507,000 figure takes into account also own efforts to weed out bad signatures.) They also said that they were working towards an even greater goal of 720,000 total, in order to have an absolute buffer against disqualifications.

State Democratic party spokesman Graeme Zielinski told TPM on Monday: “We’re confident that we will hit that mark.”

Over the weekend, the party announced a series of 22 petition turn-in parties around the state, for supporters to hand in the final petitions. And to keep momentum going, they also announced last week a “Recall Victory Day Schedule” for Tuesday — including the big petition drop-off at 3 p.m. CT, plus a victory party right near the state Capitol building.

When asked for comment by TPM, Walker campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews denounced the rallies.

“The Democrats have already held 22 parties to celebrate costing Wisconsin taxpayers $9 million for this baseless recall,” said Matthews. “Throwing parties to celebrate a taxpayer-funded recall election is an insult to Governor Walker’s successful reforms and Wisconsin families who are benefiting from them. Tomorrow’s events are just further celebration of big-government union bosses $9 million power grab.”

Matthews also said the Democrats’ have set high a bar bar for themselves.

“The Democrats have said since the beginning of the recall effort their goal was to collect 1 million signatures. The amount they turn in [Tuesday], will likely fall far short of that goal. Governor Walker won with an overwhelming majority in 2010 and we are confident that the voters of Wisconsin will not let blatantly false accusations of what Gov. Walker’s reforms have accomplished to prematurely end his term.”

So what’s next, and how long will the process take? Back in November, when the process was kicking off, representatives of the Government Accountability Board — which oversees elections in the state — explained to TPM that barring any unusual delays, a recall election could take place by May or June. But since that time there has been an unusual delay, with the potential to push things back.

As the Wisconsin State Journal reported last Thursday, the GAB has been hard at work preparing security and chain-of-custody measures for the petitions:

The board did not disclose where recall petitions would be reviewed, but Kennedy said the process would take place at a “state-owned building in Madison.” He said GAB staff were still preparing the location, which will be disclosed next week. The building is surrounded by surveillance cameras and security gates topped with barbed wire, and police officers will be there when GAB staffers are on site, Kennedy said.

The process won’t be quick. Two weeks ago, a judge in conservative Waukesha County ruled that the GAB must make a greater effort to screen out fake or duplicate petition signatures — rather than abide by the pre-existing rules, which had placed more of the burden on the elected officials targeted for recall.

The GAB is taking new measures, including the $100,000 purchase of a computer database program to track names and addresses on signatures. As a result, the GAB now says the review time will be longer than the 60 days they had originally planned on.

“We don’t know yet how much additional will be needed,” GAB spokesman Reid Magney told TPM in an e-mail late last week. “Depends on how many signatures we actually get, which we won’t know until Tuesday.”

TPM also asked Magney what would happen if the Democrats did turn in the very high numbers that have been discussed — would they you sort through all 720,000? Or would there be a certain point at which they certify that they unambiguously met the threshold of 540,000, and stop counting further in order to finish the process up more quickly?

“We’ll review them all,” said Magney.

In response, Zielinski told TPM that his party’s position is that the GAB should only have to count up to the 540,000. “Well, Reid Magney is doing his best I understand. But Reid Magney does not always know the law properly, or the will of the folks who constitute the Government Accountability Board. Our position is, once they reach that threshold — what other reason would there be? If they have determined that there are enough valid sigs, are they just gonna go fish out of a pond? At some point it becomes a waste.”

Zielinski also said that they will argue this point to the GAB: “We will challenge that, yes.”

From there, of course, the next step is to have an actual candidate to oppose Walker. Recalls in Wisconsin do not feature any direct up-or-down vote on the incumbent, but instead effectively take the form of a special election with the incumbent and a challenger fighting it out to serve the rest of the term. Now that the petitions are being turned in — after a period in which the party’s open preference was to keep the political focus on Walker — it should not be long until candidates come forward.

Previously, the Democrats had said that they would aim to unite around a single candidate.

Now, however, a primary is looking more likely, with many Democratic names being talked about as potential candidates: State Sen. Tim Cullen (who has openly said he will run in a primary); Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (who was previously Walker’s Democratic opponent in 2010); former U.S. Rep. David Obey; state Sen. Jon Erpenbach; former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and state Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca.

So all in all, this is just the latest step in a very long election year saga for Wisconsin.

The state last year achieved national fame (or infamy), for Walker’s legislation stripping public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights — and the waves of protests that filled the state Capitol and other locations, followed by a summer of state Senate recall campaigns that attracted tens of millions of dollars in political spending.

Wisconsin Democrats, 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 ones where the incumbent had won their terms in 2008, even during that year’s Democratic wave.

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.