Lots of people attempt to manage election laws; it happens all the time. We've seen it in vote-counting, with one side or the other suing their way into forced recounts after a close election. Of course there's "gerrymandering," named after a real Mr. Gerry, former Governor of Massachusetts, who passed the law that let legislators create serpentine voting districts in order to secure future victories for himself and his party. Then there are the donations, donors, special interests, and allied organizations who each attempt to influence election outcomes—and I'll take a look into those next week—but first, we have something of a creative response to playing with elections:
As noted a little while back, part of the fallout from Governor Scott Walker's union-bashing law—in which he and his fellow Republicans pushed through significant restrictions on collective bargaining while the Democrats were holed up out of state—was the push to hold recall elections for as many eligible GOP state senators as the voters could muster. They gathered enough signatures to put six of the people who voted against the unions into recall elections. Naturally, the GOP leaders tried to find a way to buy more time to prepare (read: secure election financing).
They figured out that they could get another month before these recall elections if there was more than one Democrat on the ballot, because then there would need to be a primary before a general election for each office. Six people switched their parties in order to be that extra Democrat, and thus the "Fake Democrats" were born. In Wisconsin's open primary system, people from both parties may vote for either candidate, and there was some speculation that Republican voters may turn out to vote for the fake candidates. But the final results were clear: all but one of the party-back Democrats won by at least 65 percent of the votes, and the sixth won with 54 percent.
August will determine the general election winners, and the one-month delay may not be enough to make Wisconsin's electorate forget last spring. The movement to recall the governor himself is also picking up speed—Walker can't be recalled until he has served a year of his term.
It looks as if recall votes are experiencing a resurgence among unhappy voters, especially if the Democrats pick up three seats and regain control of the state senate. Other calls for recall elections have already sounded across the country:
- Arizona Governor Jan Brewer opened a recall election for Russell Pearce, the architect of the anti-immigration law SB 1070, after citizens gathered enough signatures to force the election; the election will take place on November 8
- The Mayor of Miami-Dade faced a recall vote in March and lost, after raising taxes
- Signatures to oust the governors of Arizona, Wisconsin, and Michigan are underway
It was 2003 when Democrat Gray Davis was kicked out of the California governor's office, but after that recall election there was no surge in similar movements. In 2011, however, the political universe is more polarized and contentious, and there are now some 20 recall elections in progress, an all-time high for the United States.
Before we all run to our election boards to remove people from Capitol Hill for playing with the country's financial rating, consider this: only 18 states allow voters to remove senators by recall. They are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin.
You know who is working on recall elections in these 18 states? The people who want to remove any senator who voted for health care reform last year. Because recall votes could, by definition, become constant re-elections.
At that point, governance begins to look like a very different prospect.