(Reuters) - Organizers of a petition drive to force Wisconsin’s Republican governor into a recall election next year said on Thursday that in just one month they had collected 94 percent of the signatures needed for the special election.
The group United Wisconsin, which opposes the collective bargaining changes Scott Walker pushed into law earlier this year, said it now hopes to gather more than 720,000 signatures to recall the first-term governor by the January 17 deadline -- nearly 200,000 more than needed.
The group said it had already collected 507,533 of the 540,208 signatures required and now hopes to gather 720,277 in all. That latter figure would represent 33 percent of the 2010 general election turnout, although petition gatherers only need 25 percent to force a special election.
Walker, elected in 2010, and a Republican-controlled legislature passed a raft of highly controversial measures this year, including strict limits on the union rights of public employees.
The anti-union measure triggered a fierce political backlash from Democrats and union supporters.
After forging ahead with a conservative agenda that included the successful passage of voter ID and concealed carry legislation, six Republican senators faced recall last summer. Ultimately, two were recalled.
Organizers of the current effort to recall Walker have to submit the signatures to the state’s Government Accountability Board, which will then determine their validity.
GAB officials indicated this week they may need more than the 31 days allowed by law to finish the process.
In addition to Walker, as many as 17 state senators -- 11 Republicans and six Democrats -- and the state’s Republican lieutenant governor could face recall elections next year.
State rules allow such special votes provided the targeted lawmakers have been in office for at least one year and have not already faced recall.
The political balance of the state senate, where the Republicans hold a 17-16 majority, is at stake.
Reporting by James B. Kelleher and Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Jerry Norton