Do Not Look to GAB to Keep Recallers Accountable

MacIver News Service | November 30, 2011

Incumbents Who Face Recall, Not the State Elections Watchdogs, Are Responsible For Checking Validity of Petitions

[Madison, Wisc…] Duplicate signatures are not the only point of contention in the ongoing recall drives in Wisconsin. The board that oversees the state’s elections admits they will not check the validity of any of the signatures or addresses contained on the recall petitions expected to be submitted in January.

For $625,699 the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board will make sure all the blanks are properly filled out on petitions to recall Governor Scott Walker, but that’s all.

Meanwhile, news reports around the state have raised the questions about ineligible individuals signing the forms. At least one liberal group is encouraging voters to sign multiple times.

The GAB will not be checking for fraud, but will rule on challenges brought forth by the subjects of the recalls, should they find evidence of fraud.

Reid Magney, GAB spokesman, cited Section 9.10(3) of the State Statutes, under which the filing officer, “shall determine by careful examination whether the petition on its face is sufficient.”

Administrative Rules GAB 2.05 and 2.07 expand upon the definition “facial sufficiency,” including the presumption of validity of information contained on the petition and the challenger’s burden to establish any insufficiency.

“[C]hecking addresses, verifying ages, etc., is by law the responsibility of the incumbent,” Magney said. “If the incumbent files a challenge that says John Smith does not live at 123 Main Street, Onalaska, then the GAB must determine whether the challenge is correct and the name should be struck.”

Magney says the burden of proving the validity of signatures will fall on Governor Walker, not those filing the recall petitions.

“The same is true if the challenge says 500 Franklin Street in Milwaukee is a vacant lot, or if John Smith is not yet 18 years old,” said Magney.

The GAB staff will direct the temporary workers hired to process the recall petitions to only check to see if each signature includes the requisite information (address and date).

All signatures on the recall petitions are otherwise presumed to be valid and lawfully obtained.

Still, the GAB estimates it will cost more than $600,000 and take much longer than the 31 days allowed by law to review the more than 540,000 signatures to required to trigger a recall.

Within 10 days after a recall petition is “offered for filing” with the appropriate filing officer, the office holder can challenge its sufficiency.

If the legislature grants the GAB’s request for additional $600,000, up to 50 temporary workers aided by GAB staff will have at least a month to make sure the forms were completely (though not necessarily legally) filled out. Governor Walker and any legislator facing recall will have ten days to verify the hundreds of thousands of signatures are valid.

In addition, they may go to court to contest GAB’s finding that the petitions are sufficient or for more time or to contest the validity of the signatures.