Forward – After the Wisconsin Recall

June 8, 2012

The state of Wisconsin saw democracy in action this past Tuesday, as its voters went to the polls after a citizen driven recall drive to decide whether they really wanted to keep Governor Scott Walker, or replace him with former Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Wisconsin voters decided to stick with Walker despite an often contentious and controversial first year and a half in office.

Beyond the vote totals, however, lie two big issues that can affect democracy: voter suppression and money in politics.

When it is all said and done, over between $70 million and $80 million was spent on the governor’s race alone. CBS News reports that the final tally could be twice as much as was spent in 2010, when spending totaled $37.4 million. Because of a loophole in campaign finance law, Governor Walker was able to raise unlimited funds for the first few weeks of the recall campaign, so his total of over $30 million spent greatly eclipsed Barrett’s $3.9 million. This is to say nothing of outside groups, who spent at least $33 million on the race; “at least” because not all the money spent had to be reported. These numbers could increase significantly once the final reporting period before the election is factored in (and the numbers increase even MORE after adding totals for state senate recalls). Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a Madison based advocacy group, has been tracking the money raised and spent in the election, and has a listing on their website.

Wisconsin is also a battleground in the voting rights front. The state passed a restrictive voter ID law that is currently on hold, as it is being challenged in the courts. Turnout actually increased amongst Black voters and young voters this year compared to 2010, despite some efforts to trick voters into not heading to the polls, including false robo-calls. Some young voters had difficulty casting ballots because of a 2011 law that increased the amount of time a citizen must live in one location in order to vote (increased from 10 days to 28 days). The League of Young Voters, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Election Protection did great work ensuring that some of the most vulnerable populations knew their rights, and knew to vote on Election Day.

In an effort to shape a stronger, better democracy, elections should not only be free from the influence of money in politics, but people who are eligible to vote should be able to go and cast ballots. Many civic groups in Wisconsin are calling for a special session to address government reform issues, and others continue to fight back against voter ID requirements. Time will tell whether these efforts will succeed, but we will continue to keep fighting for the state, nation, and democracy that we envision.