The GAB won't do their bidding by striking duplicate or phony names from recall petitions. GAB chief Kevin Kennedy says the agency can't do that under state law. It's up to the folks who want to challenge the petitions - presumably Republicans - to point out such problems, Kennedy says.Blogger Jay Bullock also offers a legal opinion to the effect that the Board is not empowered to strike duplicate or otherwise obviously invalid signatures. Commenters to this blog and other have suggested that, in refusing to do much of anything to vet the signatures, GAB is just "following the law."
I don't think these statements are true. Here's why.
Sec. 9.10 of the statutes governs recall and requires that "[w]ithin 31 days after the petition is offered for filing, the official with whom the petition is offered for filing shall determine by careful examination whether the petition on its face is sufficient and so state in a certificate attached to the petition." It is simply not the case that the GAB must ignore duplicate signatures of accept signatures that are facially invalid because the name or address is illegible or obviously phony. Indeed, the requirement that the petitions be "carefully examined" suggests that the agency may not do this.
Not surprisingly, then, I don't think that GAB Executive Director Kevin Kennedy has never said that the GAB can't strike duplicate or phony names, only that it won't or is unable to get the job done. This doesn't amount to a lack of legal authority, but a claim of a lack of legal obligation, i.e. that an assertion that the duty of "careful examination" of the petitions does not require that it do these things.
Whether he is right or not is one of the issues presented by litigation brought against the GAB last week. But the claim that the GAB does not have to root out duplicate signatures and other facially phony or illegible signatures is a different proposition than a claim that in may not do so.
The view that the GAB has no power to conduct a more rigorous review of the petitions is said to be supported by reference to a challenge process in which challengers to signatures have the burden of proof. But the fact that opponents of recall may challenge signatures does not obviate GAB of its burden to conduct a careful examination or limit its ability to strike facially invalid signatures.
This places the Journal Sentinel editorial board's claim that the GAB won't do the Republicans "bidding by striking duplicate and phony names." The Republicans "bidding" is that the GAB undertake a careful examination of the petition sufficient to determine that it actually has the requisite number of signatures.
I do think that there are some limitations on the GAB's review. It is not required to go beyond the face of the petition, i.e., it does not have to verify addresses or conduct research to determine if an apparently real person "actually" exists or "really' signed the petition. This may, in fact, limit its ability to exclude odd names from apparently valid addresses. Excluding those names may fall on challengers.
But duplicate signatures or those that are obviously false ("Santa Claus, One North Pole Way, Ashwaubenon") are not facially valid.I would also argue that the GAB should not count signatures for which the name or address are illegible. I say that because, for those signatures, there is no way to determine their facial validity.
Will GAB remove these names? It's hard to know but, so far, the indications are that it may not (although some "may" be flagged.) At this point, it is hard to know what GAB intends to do. It's executive director has even been quoted as saying that"the law doesn't require the GAB to read the actual names listed on the petitions." How he reconciles that with the duty of careful examination is unclear.
He has also announced that these things will not be a problem. He may be right. I suspect that is likely to be the case. But there is, of course, no way to know that today and we can't assume the problem away. We surely would not want a referee to announce that he doesn't think the Bears will commit a lot of penalties.
Relying on recall opponents to do what the GAB won't is problematic. As things stand now, recall opponents will have ten days to vet hundreds of thousands of signatures. That is impossible. While that period can and should be extended by court order, I also imagine that recall proponents will do everything that they can to limit the length of any extension.
I and others have called on the Democrats - who claim to have lots and lots of signatures - to allow the process to begin. In response, the only real argument that I have seen is that "they don't have to" and should not give up a tactical advantage - as if recalling a Governor was some kind of game.
To be sure, some recall supporters have said that the Republicans will just raise spurious challenges but, if the challenges are spurious, they won't succeed. In any event, that argument proves too much. It would justify permitted no review of the petitions.
Others have said that there is "no fraud" with one blogger linking to my argument that there was no fraud in the state supreme court election. But, of course, the reason that I said there was no fraud was that it was, under the circumstances readily detectable and was not detected. I never said that the other side has no right to look.
In this case, a combination of the GAB's preannounced passivity, the volume of signatures necessarily involved in a statewide recall and short statutory review periods may operate to deny one side a meaningful look. That's not OK.
My assumption has always been that public employee unions can get enough signatures to force a recall. They are very powerful - well funded and good at political combat. But the fact that I think that they can and probably will get enough signatures does not mean that it is not is not necessary to verify that they have, in fact, done so.