Wisconsin counties prep for recall elections
New voter ID law partially in effect
While most Americans celebrated the birth of our nation with parades, cookouts and fireworks, clerks throughout Wisconsin spent part or all of their holiday weekend preparing for a series of recall elections set to begin on July 12.
For only the fifth time since 1933 there will be nine recall elections in the coming two weeks for state senators from across the Badger State.
“We can have anywhere from 10 to 20 recall elections at the local level, but those are on a very small scale,” explained Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB). “This is fairly unprecedented.”
While the recall elections are prepared for and conducted in the same general fashion as all other elections in Wisconsin, the timing of these elections have presented a few logistical problems including finding enough poll workers during the summer months — months that don’t typically have elections — and scheduling staff and other projects around the recalls.
New election laws in place
In addition to the added financial burden placed on counties and towns for the recall elections, several new Wisconsin election administration laws will be in effect.
The state’s new voter photo ID law will be in effect for the recall elections — sort of. There will be an “ask but don’t show” policy in place that will have poll workers asking voters to show their photo ID, but voters will not yet be required to actually show an ID. For those that do not show a photo ID, they will be given an informational hand-out explaining the law for future reference.
To help the clerks train the poll workers for the new ID procedures for the upcoming elections, Kennedy and his staff met with the county clerks during their annual summer meeting last week and have set up conference calls for two days this week where clerks may call in and ask questions about the new law.
“The questions that we’ve gotten so far have been amazing,” Kennedy said. “We really have tried to focus on the procedures for the recall elections, but so many of the clerks are concerned about what happens in February when the law is actually enforced.”
Although the state still has same-day registration a new law requires that those registering to vote on election day must be residents of the jurisdiction where they are registering for at least 28 days. This will require poll workers to seek some sort of verification — lease, utility bill, etc. — that in the past they did not need to ask for.
Another new procedure in place for these elections will be requiring voters to sign a poll list. The GAB had to redesign the poll books so they were oriented in a way that the poll worker could read the poll book and the voter could sign it without having to move the book.
Costs add up
While there has been a lot of discussion and training over the new election procedures in place, probably the hottest topic of conversation and the cause of the greatest concern for the state officials as well as the county election officials is the cost of the recalls.
According to Kennedy, the GAB has spent about $100,000 unbudgeted dollars on the recalls so far. The GAB has asked the state assembly to refund that money, but the legislative body has yet to ask on that request.
The cost to local elections offices varies depending on the size of the jurisdiction.
“At this time no cost is available and it wouldn’t be prudent to speculate on the cost of the three upcoming elections at this time,” explained Darlene Marcelle, Brown County clerk. “I would suffice to say that the county clerk’s office does not have the funds for the recall elections in my budget and I will have to request funds through the County Board of Supervisors.”
In Marinette County, Clerk Kathy Brandt anticipates that it will cost her office an additional $8,000 to conduct the recall elections. This is money that she does not have in her budget and Brandt said she will most likely have to seek money from the county’s contingency fund.
The recall election will cost Fond du Lac County at least $15,000 according to Lisa Freiberg, county clerk.
“I do not have the money in my budget,” Freiberg said. “I did have money left over from the 2010 budget, but I will need to get more for the general election from the county general fund.”
And this most likely is not the last Wisconsin election administrators have seen of recall elections. Kennedy said there is a movement afoot in the Badger state to recall Gov. Scott Walker (R). Anyone elected to statewide office in 2010 would be eligible for a recall in 2012 — they must be in office for a full year before a recall can occur—so those seeking a recall could begin circulating petitions as early as November of 2011.
“You can’t go anywhere in this state without seeing a sign to recall the governor,” Kennedy said. “It’s brewing, but whether or not we’ll get beer, I don’t know.”