MacIver News Service | January 30, 2012
[Madison, Wisc…] The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board has not posted scanned copies of the Governor Walker recall petitions online despite promises to the citizens of Wisconsin that they would do so.
GAB staff delivered copies of the scans to the Governor’s campaign late last week. The campaign, with the assistance of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, began reviewing the petitions at satellite offices across the state this weekend.
Once they scanned documents, they were going to make them public, having issued an alert to all media earlier in the day. The revelation was the top of many radio broadcasts Monday.
Such a public disclosure would have allowed the volunteers at the independent VerifytheRecall.com to also begin their effort.
But early this evening the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported GAB staff was going back on their promise, citing alleged privacy concerns by some who signed the public documents.
This is the latest development in a series of back and forth decisions by the GAB that promises more legal challenges ahead.
And it could thwart a massive effort by Tea Party groups to conduct an independent review of the petitions.
“Never before have regular citizens organized in this way to this scale in a nonpartisan sense to uphold the integrity of Wisconsin's elections,” said Ross Brown, Founder and President of the Tea Party Group, We the People of the Republic and co-organizer of the Verify The Recall effort before the GAB's surprise announcement was made. “Our volunteers are anxious to start and committed to the effort."
Brown said approximately 87 percent of the more than 11,000 volunteers who signed up at his website are from Wisconsin, although they do have volunteers from all but one of the 50 states.
“Verify the Recall has written a new play in the citizens' playbook as to how we can preserve our clean and honest elections,” Brown said.
With Monday night's revelation that the GAB was refusing to comply with their earlier public pronouncements, the Verify the Recall process could be in jeopardy.
As previously reported, the GAB had originally intended to only provide a cursory review of the signatures, having interpreted the statutes to put more of the verification onus on the recall targets. They had no intention of putting the signatures online.
In the days after the Senate petitions were placed online, social media sites and talk radio were filled with claims of problems with the petitions.
In late December, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) received a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Council, which explained the GAB was proactively choosing not to create a database and was not prohibited from doing so.
“The statutes do not impose explicit barriers to the creation of a GAB database that contains the names and addresses of individuals who sign recall petitions or to public availability of the database,” said Katie Bender-Olson, Staff Attorney with the Wisconsin Legislative Council in a memo to the Speaker “To the contrary, the statute enumerating the powers and duties of GAB may support the agency’s authority to create a recall signature database and make it accessible to the public.”
“The A in GAB stands for accountability,” said Speaker Fitzgerald at the time “I would hope this memo encourages them to provide the public with a nonpartisan source of important data that could help root out possible duplicate signatures and fraud.”
The memo continued, “There do not appear to be any specific statutory obstacles to the creation or availability of such a database,” Bender-Olson wrote. “Further, the GAB itself appears to believe that the creation of a recall signature database and the public availability of recall petition signature information are permissible.”
State Republican Party of Wisconsin Executive Director Stephan Thompson had earlier filed suit against the GAB requiring more aggressive verification procedures by the GAB. Waukesha Circuit Court Judge Mac Davis ruled this month that the GAB needed to check for duplicates and obvious fake names.
In the wake of Judge Davis’ ruling, and negative publicity surrounding their own comments regarding the potential validity of signatures of Mickey Mouse and Hitler, the GAB decided to scan the petitions, begin a more vigorous review and place the scanned copies of all petitions online.
On Monday morning they announced the signatures would be available later in the day. As the day went on, the information remained absent from their website.
In addition to the recruiting volunteers to data enter signatures, Brown’s group created a ‘no sign’ list, for which individuals could sign up to be notified if their names fraudulently appeared on the Walker recall petitions.
“Over 50,000 Wisconsinites have protected their name and address against fraudulent petition use by signing up for our "No Sign Registration List,” Brown told MacIver News Service. “Individuals have also submitted the names of their deceased family members and underage children on this list. Verify the Recall will notify anyone who signs up for this list if their name and/or address is found anywhere on a recall petition.”
Without access to the petitions to create a searchable database, the 'No sign' list project would also not be able to be completed.
The MacIver News Service will have more on this story as it develops.
Recall petitions were to be posted online at the GAB Website.
Verify the Recall, the project of We The People of the Republic and the Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty can be found online here.