Progressives are now openly discussing a plan to recall as many as eight of the Republican state senators in Wisconsin. If successful, the progressive movement could kick many Republican state senators out of office within a little as three months, though the effort to gain the necessary signatures would likely take longer. There are currently 19 Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate and 14 Democrats. All 14 Democratic state senators have left the state to prevent a vote a quorum and a subsequent vote on Governor Scott Walker’s (R) anti-union bill. The numbers simply do not favor the protesters in Madison at this point, but a recall election could change those numbers. The larger question is whether Democrats can successfully hold out until a recall election could be held.
Wisconsin is one of many states that establish a process for the state’s elected representatives to be “recalled” by the public. The relevant provisions are contained in Chapter 9, Section 10 of the Wisconsin Code. Unfortunately for the protesters, Wisconsin law requires that an elected representative be in office one year before a petition for recall can be submitted. Governor Walker just took office this January, meaning he is exempt from any recall until next January. However, as Think Progress documents, there are eight Republican state senators who are eligible for recall based on the one-year requirement. A successful recall of just three Republican state senators would give Democrats a majority in the chamber.
A recall effort would also require a massive signature-gathering campaign. According to Wisconsin law the petition for recall must contain signatures totaling “at least 25% of the vote cast for the office of governor at the last election within the same district or territory as that of the officeholder being recalled.” After the petition is filed the elected representative has a right to challenge the legitimacy of the document. Within 31 days of the petition’s filling the “official with whom the petition is offered for filing shall determine by careful examination whether the petition on its face is sufficient and so state in a certificate attached to the petition.” If the petition is deemed sufficient then a recall election would be held six weeks later. The elected representative being “recalled” could still run in the recall election.
All of this may seem like a stretch, but state recall efforts have been successful in the past, particularly when an energized constituency like the unions take part in obtaining the necessary signatures quickly. Perhaps the most famous recall election took place in California in 2003, when Governor Gray Davis (D) was recalled and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) was elected in his place.