State Legal Counsel: GAB Not Prohibited from Creating Online Database of Recall Petition Signatories
MacIver News Service | December 20, 2011[Madison, Wisc…] The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board could be doing more to make it easier to ensure the recall process is not tainted by fraud the MacIver News Service has learned.
“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 Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald. “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.”
Bender-Olson sent the memo to the Speaker in response an inquiry he made of the Legislative Council, the nonpartisan service agency that provides legal, scientific and other research services and administrative support services to lawmakers.
“The A in GAB stands for accountability,” said Speaker Fitzgerald (R-Horicon). “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 continues, “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.”
Earlier this month, it was reported that despite requesting a supplemental budget appropriation in excess of $400,000 for the recalls, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board would not be checking the authenticity or validity of the more than 540,000 recall petitions.
Rather it is the intent of the board to hire 50 temporary workers to review each petition to make sure signatures are accompanied by a plausible Wisconsin address and the correct date. While other groups have vowed to put the data from the petitions online, the GAB intends to merely provide the public with electronic copies of the scanned petition sheets, which appears to be the bare minimum required by statutes.
“Administration of the recall statute appears to require that challengers have access to recall signature information,” according to the memo.
Earlier this month, We the People of the Republic and The Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty, two of Wisconsin’s most prominent ‘Tea Party’ groups, launched an effort to check the validity of all signatures submitted in the ongoing gubernatorial recall. They are recruiting volunteers to sort through and data enter as many of the names as possible in the 10-day period wherein the signatures can be contested.
The project is taking place, online, at VerifyTheRecall.com
“Software has been developed that will help identify duplicate signatures and other signature irregularities (questionable addresses, etc.),” wrote Ross Brown of We the People of the Republic in an email to supporters. “Additionally, individuals will be able to look up their name and address on a website to see if they have been included as a petition signor.”
The campaign operation of Governor Scott Walker has also said they would undertake efforts to verify signatures.
However the Legislative Council analysis says nothing is stopping the GAB from providing this service as an accountability measure on their own.
“After each recall petition is received, temporary staff will need to create an electronic record of the petition,” the GAB noted in materials provided at their last official meeting. “Board staff plan on using two high-speed scanners to create PDF images of each petition page.”
But as of now, despite requesting hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional funding, and despite having the legal authority to do so, the GAB does not intend on creating a searchable database for the public to review.