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Wisconsin recall: The Web casts an electronic eye on proceedings

January 18, 2012 |  2:35 pm

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In what may be the ultimate reality show, Wisconsin is injecting technology into popular democracy by putting the review of recall petitions online in real time.

For weeks, the state has been roiled by the battle to recall Republicans Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state senators. (The battle began with Walker's push last year to kill collective-bargaining rights for public employees.) And on Tuesday, opponents officially filed petitions calling for a recall election.

One million signatures were listed on the petitions to recall Walker, and 845,208 signatures were listed on the petition to bounce the lieutenant governor. To force a vote, each petition needs 540,208.

Now the signatures must be declared valid. Republican conservatives, who support Walker and his allies, are already claiming fraud; Democrats and their union allies, who have been pushing the recall drive, say the petitions will meet the legal requirements.

The review of the petitions is a matter of considerable interest. But there are nearly 2 million signatures on the six petitions listed on the website of the Government Accountability Board, the state agency charged with processing and reviewing the documents. That's a lot of names and -- given the high level of interest in the state -- potentially an awful lot of people who want to see the review process.

“For security reasons, we're unable to provide public access to the recall petition processing center,” the board notes on its blog. “But we have set up a webcam to give the public and the media a way to check in and see what's happening.”

A Madison-based company donated the technology at no cost to taxpayers, the board noted.

But don’t go expecting “Jersey Shore” or even “American Idol.” No one lifts weights or wiggles suggestively. Also, the webcam doesn't offer sound.

The images show employees doing the type of tedious office work that checking involves: Looking at piles of papers, staring at computers. The most exciting the footage gets is when someone looks at a wristwatch.

Still, it's democracy in action and -- like any such enterprise -- the wheels grind exceedingly slowly. But they do move.

After the review process is completed, the board will meet to determine whether the technical qualifications have been met for the recall election.

Then, of course, there are possible court challenges ahead over the details and date of any recall election. Perhaps additional webcams will be needed.

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 -- Michael Muskal

Photo: Petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker are delivered to the Government Accountability Board Headquarters in Madison, Wis., on Tuesday. Credit: Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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