MADISON, Wis. (AP) — You know you live in a state consumed by politics when a webcam showing bureaucrats silently shuffling around a nondescript room feeding papers into a scanner attracts tens of thousands of viewers.
Such is the case in Wisconsin.
The cam, featuring a live look at the guarded, secret location where petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker and five other Republicans are being housed and processed, has its own account on Twitter and a growing cadre of followers who’ve attached nicknames to the workers, pointed out when people mug for the camera and generally mock the entire process.
Live sex shows, it ain’t.
It isn’t even as interesting as all those webcams that have drawn large followings in recent years to watch pandas give birth or baby eagles take flight.
But this is Wisconsin, after all, a state that’s been at the center of the political universe since Walker was elected governor. He immediately turned the state upside down, taking on public sector unions and igniting a protest movement that led to the recall effort. On Tuesday, organizers said they turned in more than a 1.9 million signatures to recall Walker and the others, 3 tons of paper that would extend 66 miles if laid end to end.
And someone has got to deal with all that.
Enter the ultimate in blandly named bureaucratic bodies — the Government Accountability Board — which has the important job of overseeing Wisconsin’s elections and determining whether recall elections can proceed.
Its task is to examine every signature and make sure that Mickey Mouses and Adolf Hitlers get caught and discarded, along with any Walker-hater who signed multiple times. But before that can happen, all 300,000 pages must be scanned in to computers.
The Government Accountability Board, or GAB as it’s known in these parts, wants to be, well, accountable. So as the work proceeds at the secret location, it’s letting the public eavesdrop through the webcam.
When it first got plugged in Tuesday night, the view was straight on at roughly waist level. Viewers got a chance to look at the back of the bald head of one worker and the scanner, presumably humming had there been sound, and the somewhat blank stare of the police officer sitting in the corner making sure security wasn’t breached.
By Thursday, onlookers were treated to a new view of their government at work. This time the cam was positioned higher up, offering a bird’s-eye view of eight computers and four folding tables arranged together where stacks of paper with post-it notes attached were picked up, moved, set back down, and moved again. All of the action takes place against a stark, white cinder block wall.
Political junkies couldn’t get enough. They made observations on the parody Twitter account (at)recallcam.
Much of the debate focused on where in Madison the work was being done.
One tweeter posited it was Osama bin Laden’s old compound.
Others comment on what the workers are wearing, noting more sweaters and scarves on a day when temperatures dipped near zero outside.
Still others came up with nicknames for the workers like “Sideburns,” ”White Glasses” and “Flirty von Flirtenheimer.”
Board spokesman Reid Magney, who has made cameo appearances on the cam, said at its busiest when it went online Wednesday around 400 people at the same time were watching it. By Thursday afternoon, after the tantalizing angle change, the webcam had logged 29,308 total visitors. The webcam is a first for GAB and is being provided free of charge to taxpayers by 5Nines.com of Madison, Magney said.
Magney, who acknowledged that watching the cam is as exciting as watching paint dry, was somewhat at a loss about its allure.
“People are interested in watching people do things, I guess,” he said.
Part of the attraction is just how boring it is.
Alas, all good things must come to an end and some of the mystery will be revealed in coming days when the board provides more details about what each worker is doing and where the processing is happening.
“We’ve had some questions from the public like, ‘What’s the guy on the left doing?'” Magney said.
But for now, the mystery is fueling the snark, even though the business being conducted is serious and likely to be the subject of multiple lawsuits. And the end result of the work could result in Walker and the others standing for recall elections later this year.
And that will be a spectacle certain to attract far more attention than the webcam at the undisclosed, secure location.
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