State senators who face recall elections in the coming months will have to run in their existing districts rather than newly drawn ones that favor Republicans, the state’s top elections official said Wednesday.
The opinion by Kevin Kennedy, director of the Government Accountability Board, will help Democrats as they try to take over the Senate by launching recall petition drives as early as next month. It also raises the prospect of a fierce legal battle over the issue, as Republicans could ask a court to require the elections in the new districts. The accountability board, which consists of six former judges, will review Kennedy’s opinion Nov. 9 and decide whether to sign off on it.
Nine senators – six Republicans and three Democrats – faced recall elections this year because of their stances on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation that greatly limited collective bargaining for public workers. Democrats gained two seats in those elections.
Walker and a new set of senators become eligible for recall next month. Democrats have said they will try to recall the governor and Republican senators; attempts to recall Democratic senators also appear likely.
States are required to redraw their legislative districts every 10 years to reflect changes in population. Walker signed a bill to do that in Wisconsin, and the new lines heavily favor Republicans.
Republicans hoped passage of those maps would mean any new set of recall elections would be held in the new districts. But Kennedy’s memo says lawmakers clearly stated in the law creating the new maps that they were not to take effect for recall elections until after the fall of 2012.
Republicans have not said why they included in the legislation the language that prevented them from taking effect for elections until then.
Kennedy’s memo says, however, that the new districts are in effect now for the purposes of determining whom lawmakers currently represent. That gives lawmakers guidance on which constituents they can help and where they can send mail paid by the state.