Everybody, it would appear, wants a fair recall process for Gov. Scott Walker.
Recall Walker supporters are taking steps to ensure that only valid signatures are submitted for counting. Conservative tea party activists, who say they are nonpartisan, and Republican Party opponents want to make sure that any questionable signatures are challenged.
While the Republican Party declined to offer specifics on its verification process, the Dems and tea party activists will be feeding all signatures into electronic databases to identify multiple signatures collected in the recall effort against Gov. Walker. The result, ironically, may be that the process will be both fair and decried as fraudulent.
The Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty and We the People of the Republic, two Wisconsin tea party groups, announced this week they are teaming up on a database project - VerifyTheRecall.com - to check all petition signatures that are turned into the Government Accountability Board.
Recall supporters have until Jan. 17 to collect 540,208 signatures to trigger a recall election of Walker. They have collected about 300,000 so far.
In its online announcement, Verify the Recall says its efforts are necessary in light of recent reports of "duplicate signatures, questionable practices, and downright fraud in the gubernatorial recall effort." And it says there is a "public outcry" to build a system that checks the signatures.
When asked to cite some of these incidents, Ross Brown, founder of We the People of the Republic, points first to a posting on the liberal group One Wisconsin Now's website that said it was legal to sign a recall petition more than once.
Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, has said his group publicized that in response to concerns that opponents were circulating and throwing away recall petitions. Signing twice is legal under Wisconsin law.
Brown also refers to a Badger Herald guest column attacking unnamed professors for circulating recall petitions in a small department meeting. An example of "downright fraud," he adds, was a posting on the Wisconsin Democratic Party's website publicizing a petition drive at a cemetery to gather names from gravestones.
But Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, called that posting a "hoax" back in November. He said it was immediately taken down when discovered, and he accused Walker supporters of being behind the effort.
Brown says his group is stepping up to the plate because the Government Accountability Board has "stated that it will assume all signatures to be valid unless challenged."
Reid Magney, spokesman for the GAB, says that is not accurate. With the help of 50 temporary workers, agency staff will look for whether signatures were collected within the 60-day window and whether obvious fictitious names have been used. Multiple or duplicate signatures will be identified if found, though Magney acknowledges the system is "not set up to flag multiple signatures."
The GAB will scan all the petitions into a computer, producing an image, but not a searchable database. Magney says the agency did explore using optical character recognition technology, which would turn all handwritten signatures into a searchable database, but it was too expensive. That means that groups looking to verify recall petition signatures will have to manually input the data themselves into an electronic database.
Verify the Recall says it will use software that has the capability of identifying "duplicate signatures and other signature irregularities," including questionable addresses. Brown says that 2,200 volunteers from across the country have signed up to help with data input.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is already feeding signatures into an electronic database to check for duplicates.
"We have a data entry system to preserve the integrity of the process," says Zielinski, who notes that volunteers from United Wisconsin, the main group driving the Walker recall effort, are helping with the task. "We will not submit any duplicate signatures that we discover. It's an extensive process that has many steps in which we have great confidence."
According to Magney, reviewers can strike out duplicate signatures on a petition. Any other "corrections" regarding the year signed or the signer's municipality, for instance, would have to be made by the signer or circulator under oath.
Editor's note: Optical character recognition technology was mistakenly referred to as optical charter technology.