So many signatures were delivered demanding the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and other state officials, that one scribe dubbed it the "greatest popular democracy movement in Wisconsin history." Over 30,000 volunteers collected over 1.9 million signatures and delivered them to the state's nonpartisan elections board on January 17.
Volunteers exceeded all expectations, delivering 1 million petitions for the recall of Scott Walker, an amount equivalent to 46 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial race. Never had so many, in the history of the United States, petitioned for the recall of a governor.
The achievement "is beyond legal challenge," said Ryan Lawler, vice chairman of United Wisconsin, the group that organized the volunteer effort.
But is it?
Now all eyes are on the state's nonpartisan elections board and the lawyers from both sides who will now drive the process.
Dems Worried about Delays
As volunteers celebrated their historic achievement, behind the scenes Democrats, Republicans and the nonpartisan elections board called the Government Accountability Board (GAB), jostled for position.
By law, the GAB has 31 days to review recall petitions. On January 6, Republican lawyers succeeded in convincing a court to order the elections board to conduct a costly review to check for duplicates. Normally this type of review would be conducted by lawyers of the recall target, and indeed the Republicans appear prepared to do this with some 5,000 volunteers at the ready.
Republicans justified their concern by putting forward the story of one man who said he signed the petition 80 times. According to Mike Tate of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, that gentleman was contacted by police and recanted the story and signed an affidavit to that effect. Nonetheless, the story keeps getting repeated over and over in the right-wing media, such as Andrew Breitbart's site.
Kevin Kennedy, the head of the elections board, testified that entering signatures into a database and looking for duplicates could take eight extra weeks for his staff, or might require the hiring of an outside computer firm. "We used to say that we could see an election as early as late May, but now we just don't know," said Kennedy. Kennedy himself can petition a court for extensions of various deadlines in the law.
But given that circulators collected over 185 percent of what was needed to recall the governor, and 156 percent of what was needed to recall the lieutenant governor, many believe delays beyond the normal 60 days are unjustified.
"If they turn this into a long, torturous process it will be a violation of the statute," warned Jeremy Levinson, a lawyer for the Democrats. Tate explained how volunteers had vetted signatures at many levels, and made the point that "no reasonable person" can conclude that there were hundreds of thousand of fraudulent signatures. "Let's have this election," said Tate.
Live GAB Web Cam
If the Democrats were looking for reassurance from the elections board, Kevin Kennedy failed to give them any at press conference later in the day. He said he would not stop counting ballots after they had certified a number sufficient to trigger the recall "this is not the way we have done it in the past," but would move forward to review all the signatures as expeditiously as possible.
Due to early news reports that some Republicans had threatened to collect and deface recall petitions, security of the petitions was a big concern for the volunteers who had stood in the cold for 60 days collecting signatures.
Knowing this, Kennedy held the press conference flanked by the head of the Capitol Police, Chief Charles Tubbs, someone that all parties hold in high esteem. Kennedy surprised the press by explaining that the majority of petitions were not actually at the elections board, but had already been transported to a secret location where they would be processed.
For Wisconsinites anxious about the security of their petitions, the GAB unveiled a live webcam, so that residents could see their work on the petitions 24 hours around the clock. A check on the webcam late last night showed dozens of staff hard at work.
Finding People Who Have Not Signed Is a Challenge for the GAB
The first job of the GAB staff is to scan all petitions, which will then be made publicly available on the GAB website. The scanning is only step one of the process, Kennedy was also committed to developing a complete electronic data base of names in order to eliminate any possible duplicates.
To do all this work, GAB has hired 30 of the 50 new staff they feel they will need to accomplish the task. When asked why they only have 30, Kennedy explained that to work for the nonpartisan GAB all staff, permanent or need to meet two requirements. First, they cannot have signed the recall petition. Second, they cannot have donated to an election in the last year.
Finding people who had not signed the recall petitions was a major challenge, admitted Kennedy.
Walker on Wall Street
As for Governor Walker, at the same time the petitions were being delivered, he was scheduled to be at Citibank on Wall Street for an afternoon fundraiser hosted by Maurice Greenberg, the founder of financial services corporation American International Group (AIG), which played a key role in turning the U.S. housing crisis into a global economic disaster. Walker has raised $5 million in unlimited campaign donations so far, close to 50 percent from out of state donors.
Walker did few interviews yesterday, although he made time for supporter Charlie Sykes, a local Milwaukee talk show host. During that interview, Walker called the recall effort "baseless" and characterized his critics as being from out of state, using out of state money and taking the orders of big union bosses in Washington, D.C.