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Period to circulate recall petitions in Wisconsin begins today

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November 4, 2011

By: Greg Janetka

Wisconsin

MADISON, Wisconsin: The divisive partisanship that plagued Wisconsin during 2011 shows no sign of going away any time soon. Today marked the first day that recall petitions could begin circulating in the state, while this week a vote on a controversial Republican bill to immediately implement new Senate districts was indefinitely postponed.

Democrats initially set a date of November 15 to begin their recall campaign targeting Governor Scott Walker, but earlier this week Wisconsin Government Accountability Board spokesman Reid Magney said that Walker is eligible for recall on January 3, 2012 - with a 60-day window to collect signatures, today marks the staring line.[1] While Democrats haven't announced plans to move up the date, others could begin circulating petitions earlier if they so choose. A total of 23 incumbent state Senators - 13 Republicans and 10 Democrats - are also eligible for recall in 2012. Once a petition is filed, GAB has 31 days to review the signatures for sufficiency, but they would most likely ask the courts for additional time, as they did during the recalls this past summer.

An opinion issued yesterday by Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen found that, although they run on the same ticket, a recall targeting the governor would not automatically include the Lieutenant Governor. In order to recall both officials, separate petitions would have to be submitted, with separate recall elections held. Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said they still plan to target both.[2]

Meanwhile, Republican Senators attempted to fast track a bill this week that would have immediately implemented the new state Senate districts while allowing the current state Assembly districts to remain. Under current law, the new maps passed by the Republican majority this year would not go into effect until November 2012 - meaning that any recall elections prior to that date will occur under the old districts. While Sen. Mary Lazich, who introduced the bill on October 28, said the issue was about helping disenfranchised voters in certain senate districts, the new districts would certainly give Republicans an advantage in any potential recalls.[3]

The Senate Transportation and Elections Committee held a hearing on the bill on October 31, with a vote expected the next day. However, Republican Sen. Dale Schultz said he would not vote for the bill, throwing a wrench into the process. “I’m not going to vote for it because the people who sent me to Madison are the ones who should decide whether I ought to be recalled or not,” he said.[4] With a razor-thin majority of 17-16, Republicans would need every vote in order to pass the bill, presuming all Democrats voted against it. On November 1, Lazich canceled a vote on the bill, delaying it indefinitely. She also canceled the vote on a bill that would have required petition circulated to submit notarized affidavits.[5]

Although the new legislative districts passed easily and were signed into law by Walker on August 9, pending lawsuits still have the potential to alter them. This summer a group of citizens initiated a lawsuit alleging the new maps violate the state and U.S. constitutions, as well as the federal Voting Rights Act, by dividing cities and minority communities.[6] The new maps, they argue, disenfranchise a large number of voters by depriving them of the right to vote for a state senator in November 2012. Senators in Wisconsin serve four-year staggered terms. Under the normal process, voters electing a senator in 2008 would vote again in 2012, but some 300,000 of those voters have been shifted to new districts, meaning they won't vote until 2014.[7] On October 21, a three-judge panel ruled the suit could go ahead, finding precedent for a possible constitutional violation if the allegations regarding the 300,000 voters is found to be true.

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