When organizers of Wisconsin's massive recall effort deliver what is expected to be more than 700,000 signatures to the Government Accountability Board Tuesday, it will mark just the first — and likely easiest — hurdle in a confusing process that could stretch well beyond the summer.
Since Nov. 15 volunteers have worked with the Democratic Party and various labor unions to collect what they hope will be enough signatures to trigger recall elections against Gov. Scott Walker and four Republican senators.
But from the moment GAB takes possession of the petitions, both sides will enter a period expected to be filled with legal challenges, moving timetables and a breakneck search for qualified candidates.
The Democratic Party said it will deliver more than 3,000 pounds of petitions to GAB at 3 p.m. Tuesday. The agency officially has 31 days to sign off on the signatures.
Originally GAB officials expected to ask for an extension of that deadline, pushing it to 60 days. But a ruling by a judge earlier this month makes GAB responsible for weeding out "suspect" names like Bugs Bunny, as well as duplicates. The additional duty means GAB will need to take longer to finish the verification process.
"It is a very labor-intensive job that will require eyes on signatures," said Kevin Kennedy, GAB director. "We just can't say how long it will take now."
GAB will not be the only organization analyzing the petitions during this period. Those wishing to challenge signatures have 10 days to file with GAB, which means the Republican Party, as well as the recall targets, will be working to weed out bogus names.
Republican Party Spokesman Ben Sparks said the party has 5,000 volunteers ready to examine petitions. "Right now our primary concern is to make sure no voters in this state are disenfranchised," Sparks said.
Kennedy said that when officials are finished verifying signatures, and analyzing challenges, they will deliver a report to GAB's board members. The board will then rule on the validity of the recalls. If it rules in favor, an election date will be set six weeks from that point.
However, officials assume there will be a number of legal challenges to navigate, which could stretch the process out even longer. "We used to say that we could see an election as early as late May, but now we just don't know," Kennedy said.
Recall organizers are likely to split the next few months between defending signatures and searching for candidates to run against Walker and the other Republicans. Also up for recall are Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Sens. Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, Pam Galloway of Wausau, Van Wanggaard of Racine and Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls.
Recall organizers targeted the group because of their support for Walker's policies, including landmark collective bargaining legislation he introduced in February.
The list of potential Democratic challengers to Walker include former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell, U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey of Wausau, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse, state Sens. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett
Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold has said repeatedly that he is not running.
Mike Tate, Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman, said there is plenty of time to find good candidates. He said that right now he is more interested in keeping his volunteers energized, something that hasn't been an issue so far.
"I had some concerns about being able to sustain our momentum coming out of last summer," he said. "But if anything, it seems to have grown."