Elections review shows recall targeting GOP leader falls short of signatures needed

The fate of the recall effort will likely be decided by the state Supreme Court

Matthew Snorek, right, submits petitions to force a recall election targeting Wisconsin’s top elected Republican, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Monday, March 11, 2024, in Madison, Wis. Vos angered backers of former President Donald Trump when he refused to impeach the official who oversees the battleground state’s elections. Scott Bauer/AP Photo

Conservative activists attempting to remove Assembly Speaker Robin Vos from office likely did not collect enough signatures to trigger a recall election, according to an initial review by staff at the state’s elections agency.

Matthew Snorek and other activists said Monday that they submitted about 11,000 signatures to force a recall election of Vos, the powerful Rochester Republican who has frequently sparred with former President Donald Trump. Under state law, the Wisconsin Elections Commission has said it would take 6,850 valid signatures to force a recall election.

But those signatures must come from voters who live in the district Vos represents, which recently changed after Wisconsin’s old legislative map was overturned by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. His new district lines were part of a map that passed the Legislature, which was drawn and signed by Gov. Tony Evers.

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According to Wisconsin Elections Commission staff attorney Brandon Hunzicker, recall organizers turned in a total of 9,053 valid signatures, but only 5,905 of those come from Vos’ previous district, the 63rd Assembly District. That would fall 945 signatures short of the total needed.

A memo prepared by Hunzicker for members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission found that just 32 signatures would fall within the boundaries of Vos’ new district, the 33rd Assembly District, which would fall well short of the required threshold. Even when combined with signatures collected from a third district containing territory previously represented by Vos, the organizers would still come up short. 

The six-member commission, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, voted unanimously Tuesday to order a second review of the petitions under all three possible maps that could be used under the petition.

Commissioners also voted to ask Attorney General Josh Kaul to seek clarification from the state Supreme Court about which set of legislative maps to use for their final counts.

“I’m lucky enough to be an attorney and it’s very, very murky to me,” Democratic commission member Mark Thomsen said Tuesday. “Nothing is clear about this process.”

The commission, perhaps after getting clarity it seeks from the Supreme Court, will then have to decide whether enough signatures were collected to trigger a recall election. Any decision it makes can be appealed, with the final decision again resting with the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Vos is the most powerful Republican in the GOP-led Legislature. He was first elected in 2004 and is the longest-serving Assembly speaker in state history, holding the post since 2013.

The recall attempt is the latest effort by supporters of Trump to remove Vos from office. They accuse him of being insufficiently supportive of efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which they argue was rife with voter fraud and irregularities. Numerous audits and court challenges —including an investigation ordered by Vos himself —have turned up no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Vos further angered Trump supporters when he did not back a plan to impeach Meagan Wolfe, the state’s top elections official.

Wolfe decided that she will not be participating in any work related to the review of signatures or the recall, said commission Chair Don Millis Tuesday.

The number of signatures needed to trigger a recall election of a lawmaker is based on votes cast for governor and varies by district.

Based on the district Vos was elected to serve in 2022, circulators needed 6,850 valid signatures. Snorek, who is from the southeastern Wisconsin town of Burlington and owns an extermination business, said Monday that district was targeted for signature collection.

Under the new boundaries, which Vos voted to enact, the district he was elected to represent in Racine County would be split into two. The elections commission staff noted that Vos now resides in the new 33rd Assembly District, under maps signed by Evers, but some of his previous voters are in the new 66th Assembly District. He was elected to serve the 63rd Assembly District.

Snorek did not immediately respond to WPR’s request for comment.

Vos, who has repeatedly questioned the validity of signatures collected, also had no immediate comment on the signature review totals.

Both petition circulators and Vos can challenge the validity or rejection of signatures. The commission has 31 days to determine if the petition has enough valid signatures. If a petition is determined to be sufficient, a recall election must be called for six weeks later.

The commission said in its Tuesday memo that if there were a recall, the primary would likely be on May 21, with the general election on June 18.