MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker’s June recall election and the primary held a month before it cost taxpayers more than $13 million, the board that oversees elections in Wisconsin reported Friday.
The Government Accountability Board stressed that its findings were merely an estimate and not audited. The figures were reported at lawmakers’ request.
La Crosse County spent about $24,500 on the recall election and primary, according to the county clerk. That accounts for printing costs and legal notices but not the time required for county staff to prepare for the elections.
Municipalities bear the brunt of the election costs — including poll worker wages and postage for absentee ballots.
Including staff time, the city of La Crosse shelled out more than $68,500 for the May and June elections, according to the city clerk. Onalaska spent more than $32,000.
State Rep. Robin Vos, a Republican critic of the recalls and the presumptive next speaker of the Assembly, said he’s “more committed than ever to recall the recalls” in Wisconsin. He called the $13.5 million price tag an “outrage.”
Vos, currently co-chair of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, said he will introduced a constitutional amendment that would only allow elected officials to be recalled if they committed a crime or malfeasance in office.
Under current law, office holders can be recalled for any reason as long as the required number of petition signatures is collected. More than 931,000 people signed petitions to recall Walker, although he went on to easily win the recall election.
There appears to be strong public support for limiting recalls following 15 recall elections dating back to last year. Exit polls following Walker’s recall found that 60 percent of voters agreed with Vos’ idea that politicians should only face recalls for malfeasance or criminal activity.
For that law change to take place, it would have to pass the full Legislature twice over two different sessions and then be approved in a statewide referendum.
Vos and other critics of the recall frequently pointed to their costs as one argument against them. Along with Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state senators faced recalls this year. One Republican lost, giving Democrats control of the state Senate through the end of the year.
Recall supporters argued the costs were justified to hold the election that was essentially a referendum on Walker and supporters of his conservative agenda.
Walker’s defeat of Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett made him the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall. During the recall fight, and the battle over union rights that preceded it, Walker became a national conservative hero.
The $13.5 million in costs for the May and June recall elections included $4.8 million in poll worker wages, $3.6 million in staff salaries, $1.7 million to print ballots and $1.2 million for programming election equipment.
Local election clerks also reported spending just over $1 million for training poll workers for the two recall elections and the regularly scheduled April spring and presidential primary election. Total costs for the April election were $7.6 million.
Kevin Kennedy, director of the GAB, said the additional unplanned elections put “significant stress” on local election officials.
Along with the election costs, Kennedy said processing the recall petitions that were circulated to force the elections and other expenses totaled $663,000.
The Tribune’s Chris Hubbuch contributed to this report.