State Gets Extra Month to Count Recall Petitions


     MADISON, Wisc. (CN) - A judge granted state election officials an extra 30 days to verify nearly 2 million signatures on recall petitions against Gov. Scott Walker, the lieutenant governor and four Republican state senators.
     The Government Accountability Board will have 61 days, rather than 31, to determine whether recall elections will be held.
     The extension comes after a Waukesha County judge's order called for the board to weed out duplicate signatures and fictitious names - such as Bugs Bunny.
     The board sought an extension on Jan. 20 after receiving "considerably more signatures than [it] estimated might be offered" when the signed recall petitions were submitted on Jan. 17.
     It says the number of signatures was 26 percent higher than it expected.
     Signatures submitted to recall Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch appear to be 185 percent and 150 percent more than legally required, the board says.
     The number of signatures and the judge's order for further verification warranted the filing, the Government Accountability Board said.
     According to its request for the extension: "GAB knows that it will need 60 days to properly review and determine the sufficiency of the recall petitions ... but GAB is unfortunately unable at this moment to make a definite estimate of the additional time needed. GAB anticipates that as it reviews the petitions, a clearer picture of how it can proceed will develop."
     Without the extension, the board said it could not fulfill its statutory duty to conduct a "careful examination" of the petitions. The process "involves review of the face of all of the pages of a petition for compliance with legal requirements."
     The requirements include clear identification of the petition, a date and confirmation that the date matches the signature date and is within the appropriate circulation period, adequate address listing, that the municipality matches the elective official's district, a signed and dated certification by the circulator, and confirmation that the circulator is qualified.
     The board says it plans to hire as many as 50 temporary workers and is working up to 15 hours a day to verify signatures. It bought a software package that can electronically read printed names that appear on the petitions and load the names into a database. Each petition will be reviewed by two workers. The board will not hire anyone who signed recall petitions or who donated to a partisan candidate in the past year.
     The public is not allowed access to the recall petition processing center, but a webcam has been set up to view the process online. A Madison-based technology company, is providing the feed at no cost to taxpayers.
     The board estimated the recall will cost more than $9 million.
     Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess also granted Republicans more time to challenge the signatures. Their challenges will be due next month, and the accountability board will take those challenges into account as it determines whether recall elections are required.
     According to Wis. Stat §9.10(3)(b), "an incumbent officeholder against whom a recall petition is offered for filing has ten calendar days to submit a challenge to the election officer to the recall petition offered for filing against him or her. The recall petitioner then has five calendar days from the date any challenge is filed, to file a rebuttal to the challenge. The incumbent officeholder then has two calendar days from the date of filing of the rebuttal to file any reply."
     More than 540,000 signatures are needed to recall Walker - 25 percent of the votes cast in the November 2010 race for governor.
     Walker was targeted for recall after he used a budget bill to prohibit unions of state workers from negotiating for anything other than salaries, and made it more difficult for public workers to be represented by a union.