Wisconsin recall: Should taxpayers pay extra to verify petition signatures?

The Wisconsin GOP is suing to force the state agency overseeing the recall of Governor Walker to verify the petition signatures. The agency chief says safeguards already exist.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff Writer The Christian Science Monitor

posted December 27, 2011 at 6:07 pm EST

Chicago – The Republican Party of Wisconsin is suing in state court to force the state agency overseeing the recall drive against Gov. Scott Walker to take on the burden of verifying petition signatures.

The official in charge of the oversight agency says practices already exist to monitor the signatures and that taxpayers should not be burdened with an additional expense.

The bid to remove Governor Walker from office kicked off in early November. Recall committees are required to file their petitions by Jan. 3 with the Government Accountability Board. At least 540,208 signatures, or 25 percent of the 2.2 million votes cast for governor in November 2010,  are required to force a recall election.

United Wisconsin, a coalition consisting of more than 200,000 grassroots organizations, is leading the petition drive. The group announced earlier in December that it has 507,533 signatures and plans to deliver 720,277 next week.

But media reports of individuals boasting of signing multiple petition forms and of some groups collecting false signatures are prompting Walker to cry foul. He is telling supporters that the Government Accountability Board needs to be responsible for catching false signatures in order to “protect the integrity of the process.”

“You should sign it once and only once and it should be for a legal citizen,” he told Fox News Tuesday. Ensuring the validity of the signatures, according to Walker, is “not only for the people who have every right to sign it, but also for those who don’t want to sign it. Their voice should count as much as everyone else’s.”

The Government Accountability Board agrees that false signatures are illegal and, in a statement released last week, Director and General Counsel Kevin Kennedy described them as a “blatant attempt to undermine the integrity of the electoral process” and said they would not be counted.

However, Mr. Kennedy suggests it is wrong to suggest that signatures should be automatically verified. Taxpayers should not bear the expense of having to investigate each signature, Kennedy says, adding that the responsibility is with the recall committees before filing the petitions and also with Walker, who has the right to challenge signatures after filing.

Under existing rules, if questionable signatures are flagged, they go through a rigorous review process that includes representatives from both sides, board reviewers, and independent groups tasked with reviewing signatures and addresses. Two tea party groups, We the People of the Republic and The Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty, are already mobilizing volunteers to review signatures.

“By placing the burden on officeholders to identify questionable signatures, the Legislature has determined that the cost should be shared by the politicians rather than shouldered only by the taxpayers,” Kennedy said.

Phone calls to the Government Accountability Board Tuesday were not returned at press time. The board is requesting $652,699 in personnel, equipment, office space, and general administrative costs for the Walker recall election and seven others next year.

One group asking registered voters to sign false names to the petitions is one actually against the recall: Mines For Wisconsin, a Milwaukee-based group that opposes unions and supports a pending mining bill that relaxes environmental standards for mining in the state.

The group, which is open in saying it is trying to torpedo the recall, is asking people to sign “Adolf Hitler” to the petitions. In fliers circulating the state, the group tells people “it is not illegal to sign ‘Adolf Hitler’ on a petition. Hitler was willing to destroy Germany in order to get his ideals in place. This is similar to what the recall people are doing in Wisconsin.”

A phone call to Mines For Wisconsin was not returned at press time Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Board is asking the Milwaukee County District Attorney to investigate the group’s efforts. On the group’s voicemail, a person suggests that the proposed investigation would violate their free speech rights.

The board has until Feb. 17 to review the petitions and, if verified, the earliest an election can take place is March 27, although most agree that it will likely take place in May. However, legal challenges are expected on both sides, which could push the date later into the year and closer to the presidential election.

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