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Privacy concerns stall release of WI recall signatures

By   /   January 30, 2012  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — What’s in a million names?

Wisconsin and the world were supposed to find out Monday.

Now, the Government Accountability Board, or GAB, which oversees state elections and campaigns, is reportedly holding off posting the reported 1 million signatures on petitions seeking to recall Gov. Scott Walker due to privacy concerns.

GAB spokesman Reid Magney told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday evening the board was holding off on posting the names online after hearing concerns about a stalking victim and others who did not want their names released.

Earlier in the day, Magney told Wisconsin Reporter that the signatures would be released Monday, despite contradiction in the GAB office about the release schedule.

On Monday, the board heard from people who did not want their information disclosed for privacy reasons, which led the board to take more time to consider the issue, Magney told the Milwaukee newspaper.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin last month asked that the names of domestic abuse victims be kept confidential.

Magney did not immediately return phone calls from Wisconsin Reporter.

The GAB’s move is unprecedented in unprecedented political times in a divided Badger State.

During last summer’s Senate recall campaigns, the board posted the petition signatures on its website to ease concerns over transparency.

“In Wisconsin, election petitions have always been public records, and the Government Accountability Board previously published the 2011 State Senate recall petitions online in the interest of promoting transparency,” the GAB’s website states.

Due to high public demand to inspect the current recall petition signatures, reportedly totaling about 1.9 million, and the time-consuming task of burning CDs, GAB planned to offer all petitions online in PDF form.

The board within days of the deadline for recall campaigns to turn in petitions, posted on its site the signatures from recall efforts targeting four state GOP senators — Pam Galloway of Wausau, Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls, Van Wanggaard of Racine, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau.

Magney earlier Monday said the board planned to turn over the scanned copies of the petitions targeting Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and post them online, sometime later this week.

What remained unanswered late Monday was why the Walker recall petitions are considered different than the others  — why those names may be shielded while not the other.

The GAB’s move has brought together a group of diverse bedfellows demanding the board post the petitions online, from Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council,to the conservative McIver Institute, which, like Wisconsin Reporter, plans to file an open record request seeking all 1 million signatures on the petition.

Meanwhile, just as Walker recall petitions were expected to debut Monday at the GAB site, an army of volunteers, said the Republican Party of Wisconsin, was scouring signatures and finding plenty of bad names.

“We have found numerous fraudulent names, fraudulent addresses, people who signed the petition before the period was to have started, even people who signed after the deadline,” said Ben Sparks, chairman of the Wisconsin GOP.

But Edna Highland, vice chairwoman of the Kenosha County Democratic Party, said the process has been “fair and square,” that even though errors should be expected in such unprecedented times, there will be more than enough signatures to recall the embattled governor.

The GAB’s release of the petitions online allows the public to view the signatures, if said public is so inclined to pour through hundreds of thousands of names on a PDF.

Going over each of the signatures is precisely what GAB temporary employees and staff have to do.

“At this point, our review continues,” GAB’s Magney said, declining to provide details on how many pages or the number of signatures have been reviewed so far.

Magney could not say definitively how many signatures recall organizers had collected. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin and liberal political action committee United Wisconsin have said the campaign to recall Walker has collected 1 million signatures and more than 845,000 for Kleefisch.

GAB’s count will verify the Democrats’ number independently but, Magney said, the official count may not be in until GAB staff makes its recommendation to the board.

“You have to go through every single page and how many signatures that are on every single page,” he said. “We’re just starting this process.”

The GAB’s task is to check each line of each petition, flagging any names that appear fraudulent or fictitious and tossing out duplicate names.

Sparks said there are plenty of problems, at least according to reviews by vetting volunteers at 13 Republican-run signature verification sites around the state.

He said the effort so far has found numerous incidents of duplicate signatures and apparent fraud.

“The entire process has had zero integrity from Day 1, when it began outside of Governor Walker’s house where his kids sleep at his private residence,” in Wauwatosa, the GOP spokesman said.

“And, again, all of this is going to fall on taxpayers,” he said, noting the oft-quoted GAB estimate, pegging the cost of one statewide recall election at about $9 million.

Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, did not return a phone call from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment.

Highland, of the Kenosha County Democrats, said the finger-pointing is not surprising in Wisconsin’s partisan politics. It all depends on your political point of view.

“I do believe if it (the recall campaigns) were the other way around, Democrats would turn around and say the same thing,” adding that she hopes it doesn’t degenerate into a “pissing match” between the parties.

GAB has asked for a 30-day extension to its original 31-day deadline, and it is possible the board will need more time in its review.

Magney said, as of Monday, petition reviewers had encountered no problems, and GAB had not heard of complaints from incumbents.

Highland expects an extended review and challenge process, with a recall election at least four months away.

But Highland, a retired Kenosha County clerk and longtime government employee, said make no mistake about it: “I think we will have a new governor,” she said.

The latest polling data show Democrats could have a tough hill to climb in making Highland’s prediction a reality.

Marquette Law School’s poll of 701 Wisconsin registered voters, conducted Jan. 19-22, shows Walker leading possible Democratic challengers by 6 percentage points or more. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for the full sample of respondents.

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