Wis. board voting on Democratic recalls

Wis. board voting on Democratic recalls

By the Associated Press. CREATED Jun 8, 2011

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The nonpartisan Wisconsin state board that oversees elections was considering Wednesday whether petitions to seek recall elections against three Democratic state senators were fraudulently circulated, claims fiercely denied by those who organized the efforts.

The Government Accountability Board was expected to vote at the end of Wednesday's meeting about whether to uphold or reject challenges to the petitions seeking recalls for Sens. Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie, Dave Hansen of Green Bay and Jim Holperin of Conover.

The board has already approved recall elections for six Republican state senators in what is part of the largest effort to recall office holders in Wisconsin history. The senators were targeted for the positions they took on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's divisive proposal taking away collective bargaining rights from most state workers.

The Republicans voted for it and the Democrats fled to Illinois for weeks to prevent a vote on the measure.

The stakes are huge. If Democrats can pick up three seats, they would take control of the Senate away from Republicans just months after the GOP won majorities in both the Senate and Assembly. With control of both the Legislature and governor's office, Democrats are powerless to stop their agenda. But they could block bills if they won control of the Senate through the recalls.

Recall elections for the six Republicans are scheduled for July 12, but if a Democratic primary is necessary then the general election will be Aug. 9. Should the recalls against the Democrats be approved, the primary election for Republicans seeking to challenge them would be July 19. The general election would be Aug. 16.

All six Republicans are challenging the recalls in court, but no hearing dates have been set.

The Democrats' attorney, Jeremy Levinson, argued at Wednesday's accountability board meeting that paid circulators from Colorado hired to gather signatures for the petitions were motivated by money and didn't have a stake in the underlying issues that motivated the recall effort, which led to widespread fraud.

Levinson said the fraud committed by petition circulators included misrepresenting what the petitions were for and forging signatures, which should lead to them being invalidated. Petition circulators say the claims are ginned up and politically motivated in an attempt to block the elections.

Eric McLeod, the attorney for petition circulators, described the fraud claims as "empty rhetoric" and said there was no evidence to back them up.

But the board members quizzed McLeod on whether entire pages of petitions should be rejected in cases where intentional fraud is found to have occurred, including when people said they were misled about what they were signing or when a dead person's name was signed.

McLeod said the burden was on the challengers to prove with clear and convincing evidence that there was fraud and that he had no obligation to rebut their assertions.

Dan Hunt, who organized the recall effort against Wirch, said before the meeting began that the entire process before the board has been flawed. He said he didn't have enough time to review a memo from the board's attorneys and staff released Tuesday night about 12 hours before the meeting. That memo outlined the issues in the complaint but did not recommend whether the petitions should be invalidated due to fraud.

Circulators of petitions targeting Hansen and Holperin said they hoped the board staff would have rejected the challenges and recommended that the recall elections be certified.

"Come on. What's up with all of this?" said Kim Simac who circulated the petitions against Holperin and plans to run against him. "What are we waiting for?"

David Vanderleest, who circulated the petitions against Hansen, said the board wasn't getting its work done and should be defunded by the Legislature.

Board director Kevin Kennedy said Tuesday that the legal question over whether petitions targeting the three senators were fraudulent, and if so whether only parts or all of the petitions should be invalidated, was a legal determination that the board alone needed to make. The memo was designed to present them with the evidence and facts to help make their decision, Kennedy said.

Republicans have accused the board of being partisan since it already approved the recalls against the Republicans but received a court delay in its consideration of the Democratic recalls. Attorneys for the board said they needed more time to prepare for the challenges to the Democratic petitions because the allegations of fraud were much more complicated and broad than those raised in the Republican petitions.

The board, which regulates elections and campaign finance, is officially nonpartisan and comprised of six retired judges. Potential members of the board are nominated by a panel of randomly selected appeals court judges and then selected by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

The targeted Republicans are Sens. Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac, Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, Luther Olsen of Ripon, Alberta Darling of River Hills, Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls and Robert Cowles of Green Bay.

The Wisconsin Republican Party is encouraging protest candidates to run as Democrats to force primaries in at least two of the recall elections targeting Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald supported the move, saying Tuesday it was a legitimate tool available to Republicans to give their senators more time to campaign.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)