Monica Davey

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has battled public employee unions since taking office last year, will become the first governor in the state’s history to face a recall election, a state board ruled Friday after finding that critics had collected more than enough signatures to force a vote.

The Government Accountability Board voted unanimously to approve the election after finding that 900,938 state residents had signed petitions demanding the recall. Under state law, far fewer signatures were needed — 540,208 or 25 percent of the total votes cast in the last governor’s election.

Walker, a Republican elected to his first term in 2010, had been the topic of recall demands since shortly after he took office and pushed for sharp cuts in benefits and collective-bargaining rights for most state workers. Only two U.S. governors have been removed by recall: Gray Davis of California, in 2003, and Lynn Frazier of North Dakota, in 1921.

Democratic primary elections were set for May 8, and the general election was scheduled for June 5.

“We have long said that we anticipated the election process would move forward,” Ciara Matthews, a spokeswoman for Walker’s campaign office, said in a statement after the board’s decision. “Now it is time for voters to examine the choice they will be faced with in June. We believe a majority of Wisconsin voters will stand with Gov. Walker’s record of laying the foundation for a more successful Wisconsin while moving the state forward and against the Democrats’ failed policies that would take Wisconsin back to the days of a $3.6-billion budget deficit.”

Matthews’ statement continued: “Voters are not prepared to reverse the tremendous progress the governor has made by prematurely ending his term in this $9 million power grab by out-of-state special interests.”

Months ago, state elections officials said a recall election would probably cost Wisconsin at least $9 million.

Walker’s chief critics — labor supporters, Democrats and others — had devoted loads of attention to gathering signatures and bringing the recall to the ballot. The focus now turns to a more complicated matter: The actual election — and Democrats have yet to put their efforts behind one candidate.

Under Wisconsin law, there is little time. Even before the election became official Friday, fundraising efforts and advertising had kicked into high gear across the state. The deadline for candidates to decide is April 10.