Judge: Wisconsin Elections Board Must Strike Faulty Names

by Christian Schneider

A few weeks ago, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) said that it would not be checking petitions for the recall of Gov. Scott Walker for duplicates and false names. According to the GAB, all signatures, even if someone signed “Adolph Hitler” or “Mickey Mouse,” would be given the presumption of validity until the Walker campaign flagged and challenged them. One individual bragged that he had signed the recall petitions 80 times; all of which would count unless Walker found them, and then moved to strike.

The Walker campaign immediately filed a lawsuit, charging that the GAB had a responsibility to review the petitions and eliminate any obviously fraudulent names. Yesterday, a Waukesha judge agreed with Walker, and ordered the GAB to take “reasonable” efforts to eliminate duplicate and fictitious names:

The ruling by Waukesha County Circuit Judge J. Mac Davis came in a case filed Dec. 15 by Walker’s campaign committee and Stephan Thompson, executive director of the state Republican Party, asking Davis to order the accountability board to seek out and eliminate duplicate and fictitious signatures and illegible addresses in recall petitions.

Davis, who refused to enter injunctions in the case, based his decision on his interpretation of state law, more than on equal protection arguments brought up by the Republicans. He also said that the board must take “reasonable” efforts to eliminate such signatures.

Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the board, said after the hearing that his organization would have to discuss the decision to see what it needed to change in procedures already in place.

In court, Kennedy testified that entering signatures into a database to look for duplicates could take eight extra weeks for his staff, and could cost $94,000 for software and outside help.

Steven M. Biskupic, attorney for the Republicans, argued that not catching invalid signatures violated the constitutional rights to equal protection of people who chose not to sign recall petitions.

He also cited a media report that one man claimed he’d signed recall petitions 80 times, and submitted a petition from last summer’s attempt to recall Sen. Jim Holperin (D-Conover), in which the accountability board allowed a “Bugs Bunny” signature to be counted. Kennedy said the signature was counted because Holperin didn’t follow the proper procedures for challenging it.

In issuing his ruling, Davis said, “Counting the signature of Bugs Bunny is something only lawyers could try to make seem OK.”

Incidentally, the lawsuit was filed in Waukesha County as the result of a little-noticed bill Governor Walker signed in the wake of the state-capitol protests last spring. After Walker’s bill to essentially eliminate public-sector collective bargaining passed, Democrats challenged the law’s legality in the heavily liberal Dane County district court, where it was briefly overturned. (Eventually, the state supreme court reinstated the law.)

Legislative Republicans, arguing that not every lawsuit related to state government should have to run through Dane County courts (where the state capitol of Madison is located), passed a bill allowing lawsuits relating to state government to be filed in the home county of the complainant. In this case, the lawsuit was filed by state GOP executive director Stephan Thompson, who lives in Waukesha County — a much friendlier venue.

Finally, the GAB lawsuit exposes the complete lack of originality recall petition signers have in coming up with fake names. Bugs Bunny? Mickey Mouse? C’mon, people. Nobody could throw in a “Dorothy Mantooth” (she’s a saint) or a “Corky St. Clair?”

Final signatures are due January 17. On December 15, recall organizers said they had collected 507,000 of the 540,000 signatures they would need to force a recall election. This week, they announced that they would not be publicly announcing how many signatures they have collected until they finally turn them in later this month.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and a co-author of the Campaign Manager Survey.

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