Recall petition signatures face new verification requirements

In a Dec. 14, 2011 photo recall advocate Matthew Mita collects a signature from Kurt Engelen, 30, of Madison as an effort to force recall elections against Governor Scott Walker, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and several other state legislators. Photo by John Hart/Assoicated Press/Wisconsin State Journal

The effort to recall Governor Scott Walker begins its waiting game today while the Government Accountability Board works to verify signatures collected from petitions across the state.

Volunteers for the Recall Walker effort began working toward the approximately 540,000 signatures necessary in November and have since collected over 700,000. Graeme Zielinski, communications director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said that after the verificiation process, the party is confident it will have enough eligible signatures.

However, due to changes to the process, verifying the signatures is expected to take longer than originally anticipated. After a ruling by a Waukesha judge, each signature will now have to be checked by address and name, instead of just the address of the person who gave their signature.

According to Andy Suchorski, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and chairman of the Marquette College Democrats, such steps are not required by the state constitution. Instead, he said, they have been seen by many as a Republican effort to delay an official signature count as long as possible.

Suchorski added that this process could now take anywhere from 60 to 90 days after a request for an additional 30 days from the Government Accountability Board and the new verification requirements.

The verification process begins in the wake of accusations of embezzlement against Scott Walker’s top political advisor, as part of a John Doe investigation initiated by Walker’s county administration in 2010.

Zielinski said that although details remain unknown, the accusations have netted one of the largest investigations of campaign finance fraud in state history.

“We’re still finding out a lot about it, but at this point Walker and his top advisors have been giving shifting explanations for what he knew and when he knew it,” he said.

These accusations, as well as other negative responses to Walker’s policies, have created fresh motivation within the movement — particularly among college students.

Students on Marquette’s campus, as well as campuses around the state, have played an important role in the recall effort up to this point. More than 4,000 signatures have been collected on Marquette’s campus alone.

Zielinski attributed some of this motivation among college students to the backlash created by Walker’s policies that directly affect students at both public and private schools, including funding cuts for state schools and more requirements for out of state students to vote.

He added that while he believes the Walker administration has attempted to disenfranchise college students, he expects them to continue to be a force within the movement.

“I know that Scott Walker wouldn’t want college students to play any role in this movement,” Zielinksi said. “He and his Republicans have tried to deliberately disenfranchise student voters.”

From a campus standpoint, Suchorski said efforts from the College Democrats will now turn to voter education as Wisconsin waits for the final tally of eligible signatures.

“We’ll be continuing our voter registration and education efforts,” Suchorski said. “We want to educate students and voters around Milwaukee about what they need to know to vote in the state of Wisconsin.”

Ethan Hollenberger, a junior in the College of Business Administration and chairman of the Marquette College Republicans, said that despite the number of signatures collected — both on Marquette’s campus and across the state — the Recall Walker effort has fallen short of its one million signatures goal.

He added that there is energy on the Republican side of the race as well, especially among college students.

“The College Republicans right now are mobilizing and organizing for the campaigns,” Hollenberger said. “We are unsure when the recall will be … in the meantime, our students are beginning internships at offices around the Milwaukee area and will begin volunteering soon.”

As Wisconsin Democrats cite their confidence in their ability to recall the governor, Hollenberger added that the other side is just as confident that Republicans will maintain control of the State Senate and Governor’s mansion.

“For the senators, signature gathering wasn’t as quick as it was last year, suggesting some voter fatigue on both sides,” Hollenberger said. “In the end, I think there will be a recall election with the Governor winning.”

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