Six Stats You Need to Know on Election Day in Wisconsin

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Today is Recall Day in Wisconsin. Voters in six state Senate districts across the Badger State will go to the polls in one of the most anticipated, contentious, and cash-drenched elections in decades. But before a single vote was cast, Wisconsin had already etched its name into electoral history by playing host to an unprecedented slate of recall elections in a single summer.

Joshua Spivak, who writes the “Recall Elections Blog,” recently looked back on recall history in America to show how singular Wisconsin’s recall summer is. Here are six key statistics from Spivak’s analysis; consider them food for thought on the big day here in Wisconsin.

  • 20: The number of state legislative recalls since 1908
  • 3: Maximum recall elections in one legislative session, in California in 1995.
  • 3: Number of recall elections that flipped party control of a legislative chamber (Michigan in 1983, California in 1995, Wisconsin in 1996).
  • 62 percent: Success rate in state legislative recalls since 1908.
  • 60 percent: The typical vote-getting by recall election winners, as recalls tend to be blowouts.
  • 2: Number of governors to be recalled (North Dakota’s Lynn Frazier in 1921, California’s Gray Davis in 2003).

Spivak also reads the tea leaves for what happens after the summer recalls, and lays out the hurdles in recalling Gov. Scott Walker:

The recall has historically been a below the radar weapon (I’ll have a post on its “Bermuda Triangle” nature tomorrow), so it is possible that the recall will once again disappear from view. But there is every reason to believe the recall is ready for its close-up.

There is already another recall race this year—Arizona’s Senate Majority Leader Russell Pearce in November. Michigan is facing multiple recall petitioning challenges, both against state legislators and the Governor. Petitions have already been handed in against one state Rep, with the verification process yet to be completed.

In Wisconsin, the threats are out there. You have to serve one year before a recall, so the Senators elected in 2010 will all be coming due for a recall battle starting in January, as will Governor Walker. The Assembly members will also have the same problem, but perhaps tactical considerations may make them less likely to be a focus (they only serve two years terms, which are half over. The money and effort may be better spent on those serving another three years).

The Walker recall poses its own challenges. There have been only two Govenors to ever face a recall (North Dakota’s Lynn Frazier in 1921, California’s Gray Davis in 2003, plus Arizona’s Evan Meacham would have faced one if he wasn’t impeached). Wisconsin has a relatively strict signature requirement. It requires a high number of signatures in a very compressed time frame—only 60 days (only four states limit the gathering period to 60 days). This could make a recall of Walker quite difficult.


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