Taxpayers pick up the check for recalls
By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Democracy comes with a cost, and in the case of Wisconsin’s historic state Senate recall elections, democracy isn’t cheap.
While the final cost figures for this summer’s nine elections and associated primaries are being tallied, a review by Wisconsin Reporter shows the price tag is expected to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And taxpayers will pick up the tab for the politically charged elections.
County clerks and election officials in the recall-targeted districts tell Wisconsin Reporter the unexpected elections have hit their budgets hard. Some will have to cut deep to offset the costs; others will receive a benevolent boost from other county funds.
However counties and municipalities cover the costs, it seems the payment schedule will involve robbing Peter to pay Paul.
“I’m out of luck for this year’s budget, and with next year the way next year’s budget looks,” said Marquette County Clerk Donna Seddon.
Like many of her peers in the recall counties, Seddon is waiting for the municipalities — 17 in Marquette’s case — to finish adding up the expense of administering the July primary and the general recall election Aug. 9 in the 14th Senate District.
Nearly two dozen municipalities and counties contacted by Wisconsin Reporter were still compiling expense data and could not provide definitive data as of Wednesday.
Seddon estimated that Marquette County’s overall cost could run as high as $25,000.
While the expense is a fraction of the county’s $17 million annual budget, the elections were expenditures the county could not budget for and the clerk’s office, Seddon said, will have to cover it from its budget.
“We’re obligated to pay that,” she said. “It took a lot of my supply money away this year and a lot for next year.”
Other government entities will have to draw from their general fund or borrow to pay the recall election bill.
La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer estimates the elections will cost about $55,000, which will be paid for through the county’s general fund.
Kenosha County anticipates a bill of $100,000 or better for Tuesday’s 22nd Senate District recall election and the July primary. The total includes the county’s share and the municipalities, said Kenosha County Clerk Mary Schuch-Krebs.
She’s not complaining about the cost of democracy. “It’s the right of the people to do this,” said Schuch-Krebs.
The price tag climbed for those government entities that ran recalls for multiple elections.
Fond du Lac County Clerk Lisa Freiberg said the county is looking at costs north of $20,000, $15,354 for ballots alone. The city of Fond du Lac is reporting about $32,000 in election expenses.
The county got hit with a “double whammy,” Freiberg said, operating elections at 16 polling sites for the 18th Senate District contest, and six stations in the 14th Senate District election.
Smaller entities, like Waupaca County in Senate Districts 14 and 2, incurred $28,000 in election costs, not including municipalities.
Vernon County, in the 32nd Senate District, tallied a bill of about $64,000 between the primary and the Aug. 9 election, said clerk Ron Hoff.
“It adds up in a hurry. There are so many little things, from the newspaper ads to the sample ballots to the machines,” he said. “When you talk about the recount, too, none of those three things were budgeted for. I’m definitely over-budget.”
Waushara County Clerk Melanie Stake estimates the total cost to the county and municipalities will approach $31,000.
She said the County Board of Supervisors understands that the department budgeted for two elections this year and ended up with four, but that doesn’t change the department’s 0-percent budget increase for next year.
Talk of recalling Gov. Scott Walker doesn’t sit well, at least professionally, with this election-fatigued clerk in the 14th Senate District.
“It would be costly, and I don’t know if it will change anything,” she said. “I know it will be a lot of work for my offices, and it will cost a lot of extra money for taxpayers.”
The Government Accountability Board, or GAB, the state’s election agency, has instructed all local elected officials in the recall districts to submit election costs in the coming days. Complete reports from the six recall elections on Aug. 9 are due Friday; data from Tuesday’s elections are expected by Aug. 26.
GAB will release the compiled information sometime thereafter, said board spokesman Reid Magney.
For some, the extra expenses may not be over.
“We don’t know if it will be this fall or next year,” Dankmeyer said of an election.
Under state law, the governor is responsible for calling an election. It’s also the chief executive’s prerogative not to call an election for the assembly district.
“Previous governors have done it both ways,” Magney said.
There has been no word from the governor’s office on if, or when, he will set an election. If he does, the election must be held between 62 and 77 days within the time of the governor’s order, in accordance with state law.