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Million signatures in WI indicate voter turnout in recalls

By   /   January 18, 2012  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — One million signatures suggest a lot of support to recall Gov. Scott Walker.

But will 1 million names translate into a lot of votes?

A Wisconsin Reporter analysis of the 2011 recalls indicates the answer is “yes,” albeit for both sides in this latest spate of recalls — those who hope to oust Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four GOP state senators, and those who hope to defeat the recall efforts.

By the numbers

In seven of the nine Senate recall elections last summer, the number of people who voted for the challenger exceeded the number of people who signed recall petitions.

All seven of those senators, though, survived their recall elections.

“We saw record turnouts in most of those recalls,” University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin said. “It was not just Democrats and pro-recall people that turned out. It was Republicans as well.”

United Wisconsin, the liberal political action committee leading efforts to recall Walker and other Republicans, presented the Government Accountability Board, or GAB, with a reported 1 million-plus signatures to recall the governor Tuesday and another estimated 845,000 for Kleefisch. Tens of thousands more signatures combined on the petitions targeted the senators.

Recall organizers had 60 days to collect a number of signatures from an elected official’s district that equals 25 percent of the vote in the previous gubernatorial election in that district.

Recall organizers needed to collect 540,208 to recall Walker, and the same for Kleefisch.

One million signatures to recall Walker are almost twice the necessary total, and the Kleefisch estimate of 845,000 is 56 percent higher than the minimum needed.

“You’re talking about a very significant part of the population,” said Joshua Spivak, an expert on recalls and a senior fellow at Wagner College in New York.

Walker would be only the third governor in the nation’s history to be recalled.

The last time a governor was recalled — Gray Davis in California, in 2003 — voter turnout was high, Spivak said.

With a million signatures collected in Wisconsin, Spivak said, “that bodes well for them to turn out people. Of course, Walker is going to also do a huge outreach.”

Wisconsin officials facing a recall threat are exempt from the standard campaign finance contribution limits until a recall election officially has been called.

In the second half of 2011, Walker collected $5 million, and has spent heavily on campaign ads.

Power to the people

Tom Kusumack, though, said he doesn’t need a campaign ad to be persuaded to keep Walker in office.

Kusumack, a 74-year-old St. Germain retiree, called attempts to recall Walker “a joke.”

“I think those people are nuts,” he said. “(Walker) did what he said he was going to do. He balanced the budget. They’re mad their cash cow died on them.

“I always vote,” said Kusumack, who signed a petition to recall Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin, of Conover, last year and voted for Holperin’s challenger, Kim Simac. “It’s not any effort. It’s my privilege and my duty.”

John McKay, a 56-year-old retiree from Mequon, voted to recall Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, last summer.

This year, McKay intends to vote against Walker if a recall election is held.

“I had been a Walker supporter. I’ve voted Republican most of my life,” McKay said. “But I was unhappy with the way he handled things, you know, with the state employees.”

The outcome of any recall elections likely will be determined by who gets out to vote — Walker critics or Walker supporters.

But it’s difficult in January to predict the outcomes of elections unlikely to be held until late spring at the earliest.

Reaching independents

Tuesday marked the beginning of a what is expected to be a long review and challenge process.

The recall election will be scheduled six weeks after the GAB validates the petition signatures, but any number of legal challenges could delay the process.

If a primary election is necessary to determine Democratic challengers to Walker or the other officials, the general election would be pushed back even further.

That means months will have passed between when people sign a recall petition and when they’ll be asked to go to the polls.

Franklin, who starts running a monthly opinion poll for Marquette University this week, said he doesn’t think much will happen in the intervening months to change people’s minds, at least on Walker.

Polls indicate that almost everyone in Wisconsin has formed an opinion on the governor, Franklin said. For much of the past year, polls have shown a divided Wisconsin, with Walker supporters and opponents running nearly neck and neck.

Franklin said there is room for maneuvering with independents, slightly more of whom tend to dislike Walker than like him, according to polls.

“I think those independents become kind of ground zero,” Franklin said, adding that Walker’s campaign ads already seem aimed at assuring independents that the changes he has pushed, notably the collective bargaining bill, were necessary and put Wisconsin on firmer financial ground.

Franklin also said he expects voter turnout to be high in the recall elections.

In 2010, when Walker beat Democrat Tom Barrett, more than 2.1 million Wisconsinites voted.

In 2008, more than 2.9 million Wisconsinites voted in the presidential race, with Barack Obama winning the state with about 1.7 million votes.

“The big mystery is, ‘Just how big can turnout be?’” Franklin asked. “How close can it come to presidential level turnout?”