RAY SUAREZ: Next, a different political story, this about the continuing fallout in Wisconsin from the big battles over union rights. The governor now could be facing a recall election.
Zac Schultz of Wisconsin Public Television has he story.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ZAC SCHULTZ, Wisconsin Public Television: With a boisterous crowd on hand, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin literally delivered on their promise to gather enough signatures to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Volunteers representing every county in the state took turns carrying boxes of petition pages out of a U-Haul van and into the offices of the Government Accountability Board. Only the first box went up to the third floor to be presented with the paperwork.
The rest were stacked in an office under heavy security from Madison and Capitol Police. Democrats estimated the total number of signatures at 1.9 million, one million to recall Gov. Walker, 845,000 to recall Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and more than 21,000 signatures for each of four Republican state senators — 540,208 signatures are needed to trigger a recall election of Gov. Walker.
That’s equal to 25 percent of the number of voters in the last election. A million signatures would represent 46 percent of the voters in the last election, which would make it the highest percentage of eligible voters to ever seek to recall a governor.
All of this was set in motion a year ago, when Gov. Walker and the Republicans passed a bill that removed most collective bargaining rights from most public employees, setting off weeks of massive protests at the state capitol in Madison.
The executive director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin says this was a monumental achievement.
MIKE TATE, Democratic Party of Wisconsin: We think this represents such an incredible figure and is absolutely beyond any challenge, legal or otherwise.
ZAC SCHULTZ: A spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin wasn’t as impressed.
BEN SPARKS, Republican Party of Wisconsin: There was never any doubt in our minds that the Democrats would be able to rally their liberal base of support around this baseless and expensive recall effort.
ZAC SCHULTZ: The recall is now in the hands of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which is in charge of elections in Wisconsin.
The signatures were transferred to an undisclosed state building, where temporary workers, under the supervision of GAB staff, are working 15 hours a day to scan the petition sheets into a database. No one else will be allowed in until all the sheets are scanned.
In the meantime, the world can watch through a live Webcam.
KEVIN KENNEDY, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board: We have done a lot of planning on security. We’re confident with the help of the Capitol Police.
ZAC SCHULTZ: Kevin Kennedy is the executive director of the GAB.
After scanning in the petitions, staff will begin reviewing the signatures, with at least two people looking at every signature. The normal timeline would require them to certify the signatures in 31 days, with Gov. Walker only getting 10 days to challenge fraudulent or duplicate signatures.
But the GAB will ask a judge to extend their timeline due to the overwhelming number of signatures to check.
KEVIN KENNEDY: Right now, I can’t tell you how long the petition review process will take.
ZAC SCHULTZ: Complicating matters is a recent ruling in Waukesha County court in which a judge ordered the GAB to inspect the petitions for duplicate signatures and obvious fakes, a task previously left to the challenger.
That additional task will require optical character recognition software and could add two months to the process. Kennedy says it’s impossible to predict when an election could take place, although it’s safe to say it won’t happen before summer.
KEVIN KENNEDY: We really don’t have any sense. There are so many variables in the process. If — there could be a large number of challenges. The court’s order two weeks ago adds significant time constraints for us to make reasonable efforts to identify duplicates.
ZAC SCHULTZ: Democrats believe Walker is hoping for long delays.
MIKE TATE: Scott Walker knows, if the election were held today, he’d lose. So he’s going to engage in all sort of delay tactics and try to push this election back as best as he can, knowing that that’s his only hope right now is to delay the timing of this thing.
ZAC SCHULTZ: Republicans say asking for due process is not stalling.
BEN SPARKS: The Government Accountability Board has said that it anticipates requesting more time. And we encourage the Government Accountability Board to take as much time as necessary to ensure that no one is disenfranchised in this process.
ZAC SCHULTZ: Meanwhile, the roles of Democrats and Republicans have reversed.
Last fall, the Democrats trained an army of volunteers to gather signatures, while Republicans sat and waited. Now the Republicans are training their own army of volunteers to verify those signatures are legitimate, while the Democrats sit and wait.
These citizens have volunteered to examine petition sheets for the Republicans.
ERIC URTES, volunteer: Well, I wanted to look at the verification process and see how it was operating.
ZAC SCHULTZ: Turnout was so high around the state, Republicans had to hold classes on two additional nights.
BEN SPARKS: Our volunteers will be doing a hand review of all petitions, in addition to whatever the Government Accountability Board is able to do on its end.
ZAC SCHULTZ: Eric Urtes says, with a million signatures, he expects the recall to happen, but says being part of the verification process is his way to participate in this unique slice of democracy.
ERIC URTES: It’s just like going to vote. If you’re interested in the politics of it and you feel strongly about it, you have to contribute in one way or another.
ZAC SCHULTZ: We are still months away from an official recall election being set, but Democratic candidates are already stepping forward, making a primary election likely.
The one name many Democrats would like to see on the ballot is that of former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, but he has repeatedly said he will not run for office this year.