Monday, November 14, 2011

Wisconsin Gubernatorial Recall -- thoughts on timing and signature requirement

Despite a bizarre early jump start last week, tomorrow is D-Day for the start of the Governor Scott Walker recall campaign (and against at least three Republican state Senators). The recall proponents, who include Democrats and unions, need to gather an estimated 540,000 valid signatures in 60 days to get on the ballot. If they get Walker on the ballot, it would be only the fourth time (North Dakota in 1921, Arizona in 1988, California in 2003) a gubernatorial recall qualified for the ballot in the US. The Arizona recall against Governor Evan Meacham never took place (Meacham was impeached before the recall was held). The two other Governors, Lynn Frazier and Gray Davis, both lost their recall vote.

In some ways, Wisconsin would be a surprising candidate to hold a gubernatorial recall. Its law present a higher hurdle than other states. It possesses the shortest time frame for petitioning -- 60 days. Only Idaho, Nevada and Colorado have that low a time limit to gather the signatures. Many states have a much larger time frame (it varies from 90 to 320 days ).

Its signature requirement is not low: The 540,000 represents 25% of the vote for the governor's office in the last election. Three states have clearly lower requirements (California, Oregon, Rhode Island), Only three states have clearly higher requirement (Kansas, Louisiana and NJ).

Let's compare this to California, the last state to hold a gubernatorial recall. Proportionally, California has the easiest recall to get on the ballot. Petitioners need only to gather 12% of the votes cast in the last election (5% in every district), and they have a leisurely 160 days to do it. The recall proponents also chose a good year -- the 2002 election saw the lowest turnout in California history. Of course, the Gray Davis recall needed many more signatures (close to 900,000), the proponents got to fish from a much larger pool.

But this hurdle will likely be surmounted by the recall petitioners. And money (and technology) will be the big reason. Back to the West Coast -- There were 31 recall attempts in California before the Gray Davis recall. None of them got on the ballot. But Davis' recall had other factors in its favor: the growth of a signature gathering industry and the technological revolution to help to get the word and organize volunteers. Most of all, it had the cash. Gray Davis' recall had some deep pockets backing it (Rep. Darrell Issa). And that money is a pittance compared to what will be spent in Wisconsin.

The other major issue is timing. Unfortunately, I don't have time to expand right now, but here's a previous post expounding on the dangers of the timing of this recall.

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