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The third-floor offices of the Government Accountability Board are a blur of activity these days as the state’s election watchdog works through an unprecedented number of recall petitions.

On Thursday, the busiest day in what has become the busiest recall year ever, officials submitted the signatures for four state senators.

The filings push GAB deep into uncharted waters. The agency has never dealt with more than a single recall election at one time. But after Thursday, it now faces eight — a number that could easily grow by mid-May, the last deadline for the remaining eight senators targeted with recalls.

Meanwhile, the agency is preparing to conduct a recount of this year’s state Supreme Court election.

“It’s supposed to be slacking off now, but it isn’t,” said GAB spokesman Reid Magney. “Not this year.”

The tumultuous atmosphere that led to the current recall frenzy started with the introduction of Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial budget repair bill. The law, which would severely curb collective bargaining for public employees if it survives a court challenge, led to weeks of protests at the Capitol and a slew of recall efforts against Democrats and Republicans.

Petitions have so far been filed against Republicans Alberta Darling of River Hills, Luther Olsen of Ripon, Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac, and Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls and Democrats Dave Hansen of Green Bay, Jim Holperin of Conover and Robert Wirch of Pleasant Prairie.

Officials are unsure how long it will take to prepare for the recalls, how much the process will cost and how many workers are needed to pull it off.

The agency has requested $40,800 from the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to pay for additional supplies and temporary workers to handle the workload.

The process is labor-intensive. Working behind closed doors, a handful of workers are poring line by line over thousands of names and addresses in an effort to validate recall petitions.

GAB workers give the petitions a “facial exam,” making sure the dates are correct and names have signatures and addresses. They don’t, however, confirm that a person lives at the listed addresses. That job falls to the campaigns of the candidates being recalled, which are expected to challenge the signatures.

The board has 31 days to review the petitions after they’re filed. But it plans to go to court next week to request an extension to allow for more time to handle the counts and attempt to synchronize the recalls so as many elections as possible can occur on the same day.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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