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Laws governing recall in Wisconsin

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The citizens of Wisconsin are granted the authority to perform a recall election by Section 12 of Article XIII of the Wisconsin Constitution. This section was added to the Wisconsin Constitution in 1926; it was amended in April 1981.

§§9.1 0(1) and (3), Wis. Stats. are the statutory expression of how recall campaigns are to be conducted in Wisconsin.

Who may be recalled?

The right of recall in Wisconsin extends to all elective offices in the state, but only after the elected official has served a full year in his or her current term of office.

Specifically, the right of recall extends to all statewide executive officers, including the Governor of Wisconsin, the Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Treasurer, the Attorney General of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Secretary of State, the Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction, and all members of the Wisconsin State Senate and the Wisconsin State Assembly.

In terms of local elected positions, the right of recall extends to incumbent elected officials of any city, village, town, town sanitary district, or school district in the state.

Wisconsin is one of nine states with provisions that say that the right of recall extends to recalling members of its federal congressional delegation, but it hasn't been clear whether federal courts would allow states to actually recall their federal politicians.[1]

According to §9.1 0(6), Wis. Stats., if an elected official is targeted for recall, a recall election is held, and the incumbent retains his or her seat, that incumbent officeholder cannot be targeted again for recall during the term of office in which the unsuccessful recall attempt took place.


Who can initiate?

The person who files a recall petition is referred to as the "petitioner" for that particular recall effort.

To be a recall petitioner, that person must be a "qualified elector of the election district from which the officeholder was elected."

In Wisconsin, a "qualified elector" is someone who:

  • Is a citizen of the United States
  • Is 18 years of age or older
  • Has resided in the district or jurisdiction where the recall is sought for at least 10 days.

Recall committee registration

Before circulating a petition for recall, someone who wishes to sponsor a recall effort must register his or her intent to do so with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board. This includes a Campaign Registration Statement along with a second statement indicating:

  • The petitioner's intent to circulate a recall petition. This intent is indicated on a form called the Statement of Intent to Circulate Recall Petition.
  • The name of the officeholder for whom recall is sought, and
  • The reason for the recall, which must be related to the official responsibilities of the officeholder. A statement of reason for a recall applies to city, village, town, town sanitary district or school district officers only. Wis. Stat. §9.10 (2)(d).

Form of the petition

Example of a recall petition (click to enlarge)
  • Each sheet of paper that is circulated for the purposes of collecting signatures for the recall must have "on its face, at the top, in bold print" the words: RECALL PETITION.
  • The name of the targeted incumbent officeholder must be identified on the petition.
  • Only one officeholder can be named on a recall petition. If recall organizers are simultaneously targeting more than one incumbent, entirely separate recall petition sheets must be circulated for each such targeted incumbent.

On each petition sheet, there must be a space for qualified electors to:

  • Sign their name
  • List their municipality of residence, along with the post office address, including street and number, if any, or rural route. According to regulations, the address must be complete and it must clearly show that the signer resides in the district or jurisdiction represented by the targeted incumbent officeholder.
  • List the date that the person signed the petition.

Each separate petition sheet of a recall petition must contain a completed statement that is known as a Certification of Circulator.

Number of required signatures

The number of valid signatures required for a recall election is 25% of the number of persons that voted in the last preceding election for the office of governor within the electoral district of the officer sought to be recalled. Each signer must be a qualified voter within the district represented by the officeholder being recalled, and the address of each signer must be located within that district.

Anyone who wants to circulate a recall petition is allowed to request from the appropriate filing officer the exact number of signatures required in the relevant political jurisdiction. When a filing officer receives such a request, they are required to make that determination and provide it to the person who requested the information.

Dates of signatures

When a person signs a recall petition, in order for the signature to count as valid, the person must put on the petition sheet the date that they signed the petition. In order for a signature to count as valid, the dates of signing must:

  • Be within 60 days from the date the recall petitioner registered with the filing officer.
  • Not be later than the date of the circulator's signature in the Certification of Circulator.

Time allowed to collect signatures

Circulation of the recall petition must be completed within 60 days after registration. The completed petition must be returned to the original filing officer no later than 5:00 p.m. on the 60th day from the date of registration. Any signature dated before this 60 day period is invalid.

Circulator requirements

After the signatures are obtained, a certification must be completed by the circulator.

The circulator must:

  • List his or her full address, including municipality of residence, and street and number, if any, or rural route.
  • Sign and date the certification after they have obtained the signatures.
  • Have personally circulated the petition and personally obtained each of the signatures on the paper.
  • State that he or she is aware that falsifying the certification is illegal.

Definition of a valid signature

§9.10(2), Wis. Stats., defines the characteristics that a signature on a recall petition must exhibit in order to be counted by election officials as a valid signature.

According to §9.10(2), a signature is not valid and therefore cannot be counted if:

  • The signature is not dated.
  • The signature is dated, but the date on the signature falls outside the allowed circulation period.
  • The signature is dated, but the date on the signature is after the date that the circulator put on the Certification of Circulator that is on the petition sheet containing the disputed signature.
  • It is not possible to determine, from the address provided on the petition sheet, where that person lives.
  • The signature is that of an individual who is not a resident of the jurisdiction or district from which the incumbent targeted for recall was elected.
  • The signer has been adjudicated not to be a qualified elector on grounds of incompetency or limited incompetency as provided in §6.03 (3), Wis. Stats.
  • The signer is not a qualified elector by reason of age.
  • The circulator knew or should have known that the signer, for any other reason, was not a qualified elector.

Furthermore, signatures on a petition sheet will not be counted as valid if:

  • The circulator of a petition sheet fails to sign that sheet's Certification of Circulator. In this case, all the signatures on that sheet are counted as invalid, even if they would have otherwise been counted as valid.
  • The circulator of a particular petition sheet is not a qualified circulator. In this case, all the signatures on that sheet are counted as invalid, even if they would have otherwise been counted as valid.

Certification of sufficiency/insuffiency

Election officials must provide a "certificate of sufficiency" or a "certificate of insufficiency" within 31 days after recall organizers have submitted the signatures on the recall petition.

A "certificate of sufficiency" must:

  • State the number of petition sheets that were filed.
  • State the number of signatures that were determined to be valid.

A "certificate of insufficiency" must:

  • Explain in detail why enough signatures of those that were submitted were determined to be invalid so that the remaining number of valid signatures falls below the minimum threshold of signatures required to force a recall election.

Within seven days after a final determination of sufficiency or insufficiency of a recall petition has been made by the relevant election authorities, the petitioner or the incumbent against whom the recall petition is directed may file a petition in a Wisconsin court for a writ of mandamus contesting that determination.

Correction of insufficiencies

If the relevant election officials file a "certificate of insufficiency", recall organizers have five (5) days to correct some of the problems that may have led to that determination. Recall organizers, specifically, are allowed within five (5) days to:

  • If a circulator failed to fill out the Certificate of Circulator on one or more petition sheets and, as a result, none of those signatures were counted as valid, that circulator may correct this flaw, allowing any of those signatures that otherwise were valid to be counted as valid.
  • A person who signed the petition did not affix a date, or affixed an incorrect date. If that signer can be located, and this deficiency fixed within the allowed five (5) days, that signature can then be counted.
  • If the circulator signed the Certificate of Circulator, but left legally required information off the certificate, such as his or her complete address, this deficiency can be corrected within the 5 day window for correcting deficiencies.

If, when these deficiencies are corrected, the number of valid signatures is determined to be sufficient to force a recall election, the relevant election officials will then issue a "Certificate of Sufficiency."

Challenges to signatures

Within ten (10) days of the time that signatures are submitted, the targeted incumbent elected official can challenge the sufficiency of the signatures. This must be done by filing a written, sworn complaint with the filing officer who received the signatures.

  • The filing officer or agency is required to review any such written, sworn complaints
  • The burden of proof for any challenge rests with the individual who brings the challenge.
  • The challenge to the validity of any of the signatures "shall be presented by affidavit or other supporting evidence demonstrating a failure to comply with statutory requirements" for a valid signature.
  • If the challenger can establish that a person signed the recall petition more than once, the second and subsequent signatures of that person are not to be counted.
  • If the challenger "demonstrates that someone other than the elector signed for the elector" that signature is not be counted "unless the elector is unable to sign due to physical disability and authorized another individual to sign in his or her behalf."
  • If the challenger "demonstrates that the date of a signature is altered and the alteration changes the validity of the signature", that signature is not to be counted as valid.
  • If the challenger establishes "that an individual is ineligible to sign the petition", that signature is not to be counted as valid.

These reasons cannot be used to strike a signature:

  • "No signature may be stricken on the basis that the elector was not aware of the purpose of the petition, unless the purpose was misrepresented by the circulator."
  • "No signature may be stricken if the circulator fails to date the certification of circulator."
  • "If a signature on a petition sheet is crossed out by the petitioner before the sheet is offered for filing, the elimination of the signature does not affect the validity of other signatures on the petition sheet."
  • If the signature was collected "in violation of any time or place restrictions for public buildings or public employees imposed by statute or rule."[2]

Review of petition

Within 31 days after the petition (with signatures) is submitted to the filing officer, he or she has 31 days to determine the sufficiency of the petition and also that it meets all necessary requirements. Following this review, the filing officer must attach to the petition either a certificate of sufficiency or of insufficiency, allowing at least 10 days for the officeholder being recalled to file any challenge.

If the petition is considered sufficient, the filing officer will submit it to the appropriate local governing body, which will then immediately call a recall election to be held on the Tuesday of the 6th week after the date on which the clerk issued the certificate of sufficiency.

Contact information

Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
212 East Washington Avenue, Third Floor
Madison, Wisconsin 53703
Phone: 608.266.8005

State senator recalls, 2011

See also

External links