Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Recall concerns

Here is why opponents of the Walker recall might be reasonably concerned about the interaction of  1) the GAB's statement that it is not only "not illegal" to sign more than one recall petition but that voters should do it if they fear a petition might not be turned in, 2) the left's hyping of a so far undetected plot to circulate and destroy false recall petitions and 3) the decision of at least some recall organizers to tell people that they may - and arguably encourage them to - sign more than one petition.

Everyone agrees that the administrative burdens presented by a gubernatorial recall are unprecedented. Determining the validity of over 500,000 signatures and ensuring that there are no duplicates is so difficult that the GAB has pretty much thrown in the towel. Aside from a cursory review for obvious inefficiencies, it intends to presume the validity of the signatures. This, it says, reflects an expectation that those who submit the signatures won't turn in duplicates or invalid signatures and the belief that recall opponents will be able to ferret out anything untoward.

That's how it usually works but there are a few problems here. First, the volume that makes it difficult for the GAB to vet over a half million signatures also applies to the ability of recall opponents to do so. Second, it is, I think, somewhat unusual for recall organizers to explicitly tell (some would say encourage) people to sign petitions more than once. This makes it likely that duplicates could be a problem.

This is so even if it is legal to sign a petition more than once. Contrary to some media reports and blogger claims, state law does not expressly permit this, it simply does not expressly prohibit it. I suppose that one might argue that signing a petition more than once is fraud in connection with a recall petition. Personally, I would not wish to see people prosecuted for that because I believe that criminal statutes ought to be construed narrowly and fraud is, moreover, a matter of intent. But the matter may not be as clear as GAB says.

A closer question might be presented with respect to recall organizers who submit petitions knowing, or with no regard for, whether they contain duplicates. State law is quite clear on the number of individual voters who must sign recall petitions. Arguably, submission of petitions constitutes a representation that the requisite number has been obtained. But if one tells people that they may sign more than once and then does nothing to eliminate duplicates (particularly knowing that the GAB won't do so), has one made a false statement with respect to a recall petition? What if the actual number of individual electors signing is less than the requisite amount?

Again, I don't think that prosecuting people who have not knowingly submitted duplicates in an effort to create a false impression that the requisite number of signatures is a good idea, but we are dealing with a confluence of factors that potentially affects the integrity of the process.

Recall proponents, as near as I can tell, defend their behavior because a couple of guys on Facebook (who could have been anybody or nobody)  said they were going to collect recall petitions and destroy them. The GAB, while acknowledging that it had no evidence that anyone was really planning to do this, issued a much publicized warning against recall fraud that appears to have been used by some as a justification to tell folks that they may -and perhaps should - sign early and often.

Some lefty bloggers are using three incidents in which they claim someone "destroyed a petition" but none of these instances involved the circulation of false petitions. To the contrary, they involved two individuals who grabbed a petition from actual recall organizers and either ripped them up and one who seems to have either tore or poked a hole in the page. This type of thing is alleged to have happened before (including by Democrats) but would not seem to constitute an existential threat to the recall effort that would justify deliberately seeking - or providing -  multiple signatures.

At this point, it would seem that duplicate signatures are a far more serious problem than destroyed signatures. It is, of course, possible that there are "false flag" circulators. Just as I am unwilling to assume that "no one" would engage in fraud when it comes to voter registration and voting, I am not going to assume it away here. Whether that justifies what some might reasonably see as the encouragement of multiple signatures is another matter.

Will this turn into a significant problem? It is quite possible that recall opponents will be able to vet the submitted signatures for duplicates. Perhaps the number of signatures will be sufficiently in  excess of the required amount to make duplicates immaterial. Nevertheless, there is something that is unseemly about telling people they may sign more than once when neither the organizers or the reviewing government agency intend to do anything to eliminate duplicates.

If the recall was going the other way, i.e, if the Republicans were attempting to recall a Democratic governor, can anyone doubt that folks on the left would have the same concerns?


Anonymous said...

Professor, if the potential for fraud is so great, why doesn't the Governor divert a couple million dollars that would otherwise be spent on his fluff television commercials and use it to "vette" the recall petitions once they are filed?

Surely for a million dollars or so you could get the petitions digitized and the fraud -- if any -- could be easily and quickly detected.

Raising the money for this exercise would be a snap, since there are no limits on contributions -- PAC or personal -- to be devoted to such an endeavor.

Tom said...

Anon, what makes you think the governor won't be doing just that? I think it's extremely likely that the governor and other pro-governor groups are going to spend substantial effort reviewing the submitted signatures.

RB said...

When the Recall groups submit the petitions, by law the Walker campaign will have 10 days to contest signatures. I'm assuming they will go to court and ask for more time and get it. Especially since a legal challenge does not have to be filed in Dane County. My hope is that the campaign or the state GOP will get these names entered into a database to crosscheck duplicates and examine fraudulent signatures.

Since the petitions are of public record, wouldn't it be helpful to have this database available to the public? I'm thinking of something similar to the database for public service employee salaries. This way the public can see who signed multiple times. Citizens could also ensure their name/address was not used on the petition. Also, citizens could search the database by zip or city and may be able to help weed out bogus signatures.

I understand this process would be labor intensive, but I think it could be a useful tool to ensure transparency and try to maintain some integrity to the recall process.

John Foust said...

When the recalls "went the other way," where was your critique of the process?

... because a couple of guys on Facebook (who could have been anybody or nobody) ... That won't stop it from becoming a press release for McGyver / WPRI / WisGOP, then a newspaper story, then a Sykes topic, and numerous blog posts, of course.

No doubt there's some off-shore place that would take scanned petitions and enter them into a database for pennies per page. Because one end of the computer network was in Wisconsin, Walker could count them as "new jobs created."

But who will watch the watchers? Maybe Grothman will suggest a method for notarizing and checking the birth certificates of those who double-checked the names.

Anonymous said...

I was once told by a very wealthy man that anything in life worth doing is never appears to me that both sides should decide what is the best way to handle the dispute...recall...court case or some other type of settlement...

Tom said...

RB, the petitions themselves are public record, but if any private group (whatever the name of Walker's campaign committee is) compiles a database from it, that won't be a public record (although it could certain choose to published the database).

I hope they do. It would definitely be smart to have as many eyes as possible reviewing the petitions.

Anonymous said...

My point is that the fraud argument is a phony one, in light of the fact that an incumbent with unlimited deep pockets has the resources to ascertain whether or not duplicate signatures or fraudulent signatures have been submitted. It is disingenuous for the Professor to advance the argument he makes.

But that's not the party line, which is that all Democrats are devious reprobates who will stoop to any depth to win.

It's complete poppycock and the Professor knows it. He pretends to wear a mantle of objectivity (or scholarship), while the truth is that he is a complete and total Republican shill. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but he shouldn't pretend otherwise.

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

(just removed because apparently using the sideways carats makes text disappear. Here it is again)

@Anon. I have to say that through my recent interactions with liberals I am getting REALLY sick of consistently being bombarded with the strawman that you use, that if I criticize liberals (or a liberal), I'm somehow claiming that every one of them is [fill in a negative description, usually overblown]. Like if I make a comment about the overall tenor of the Occupy movement, you'll try and disprove me by sharing a Youtube video of one articulate occupier.

Can't you guys and gals find a better argument to make? I know it's ridiculously easy to disprove by coming up with just one example of a liberal who doesn't have that negative description, but refuting an argument I've never made isn't a victory.

(Please employ reading skills and note that I am referring specifically to liberals I have recently interacted with, and not all liberals.)

Substantively, are you arguing that fraud is ok, or at least isn't something we should worry about, because somebody has the capability to expend large amounts of cash to potentially uncover it? That's akin to not worrying about crime because, after all, most of it gets caught and punished.

RB said...

Looks like two groups have stepped up to get the signatures into a database for the public to view.

John Foust said...

RB, I'm confident that a group that uses GoDaddy's "WebSite Tonight" product will be able to handle the quick creation of a web-based distributed entry and verification system for volunteers to use to confirm the errors in perhaps 30,000 scanned images.

Richard D. Breen said...

Maybe I just don't understand reality, but it seems to me that an electoral process as important as a recall should be on the same footing as a general election in terms of the methods used for management and control. Why not have one day where individuals interesting to "voting" to have a recall election can register their desire at there normal polling place? A simple computer application and someone to check ID would streamline data gathering and reduce the chance of duplicates and fraud. If the cost is an issue, figure out a way for those interested in the recall to pay for it. The biggest cost is the personnel anyway. If both sides pay for the personnel as a check and balance you can get past the question of fairness and move on to the real recall -- if it is mandated. Think how many advertising dollars would be saved by just getting it over with!

Art said...

I would certainly think Mr. 80 signatures with his statements of intent to defraud the process should be prosecuted for this fraud. If this were a R in a D county this would be filed as felony fraud in a New York second.

If nothing else is done the DA in Milwaukee county should have a nice conversation with this person and issue a public statement that massively duplicated signatures will be considered as evidence of intent to defraud and that it may be charged in appropriate cases. To simply say that it is not illegal to sign multiple times in not the entire truth if you have an intention to not be caught and for more than one to be counted.

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