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Editorial: On, Wisconsin: Recall reform makes sense

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opinion River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

A common-sense proposal is slowly making its way through the Wisconsin Legislature. Assembly Joint Resolution 25 seeks to reform the state’s recall laws. The resolution’s authors explain that the idea for the move stems from the recall mess that entangled the state in some nasty, expensive political battles over the past two years.

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State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and State Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) are behind the push for change. They note that there have been 15 recall elections over the past two years and those special elections cost taxpayers about $16 million.

And really, in the end, little measurable change resulted from all of the time and money spent on those recalls.

The legislators say the seemingly never-ending elections have left voters “politically exhausted” and wanting reform. Such sentiments are hard to refute.

If the Legislature pushes the resolution forward, a state Constitutional amendment would be required to get the reforms on the books. The Legislature would have to approve the amendment in two consecutive sessions. Then, voters would have to approve the measure through a statewide referendum.

It’s a time-consuming process but one that’s needed to ensure the long-term stability of the state’s electoral process.

If approved, the reforms would help to prevent recalls that are based solely on policy decisions and individual votes.

It would, instead, restrict the use of recall elections to situations where a congressional, judicial, legislative or county elected official has broken the law or violated the state’s yet-to-be-established code of ethics. If an elected official violates the public’s high expectations of their conduct, they would open themselves up for a possible recall.

Under current state law, an elected official can be recalled for any reason, as long as a certain number of registered voter signatures are collected and a year has passed since the elected official took office. Those open-ended regulations helped pave the way for the recent recall efforts, but it’s not what Wisconsin’s recall laws were meant for.

In 1926, when the state’s recall amendment was adopted, lawmakers expected the law to be rarely used. That’s been the case for more than 80 years, but recent political battles have ramped up the use of the voter tool.

It’s time to close that open door for recalls and bring sanity back to Wisconsin’s election process.

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