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Missing signatures? Review finds gap in Wisconsin recall figures

By   /   February 10, 2012  /   No Comments


By M.D. Kittle and Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — The numbers don’t add up, and Wisconsin’s elections watchdog can’t explain it.

A third-party analysis of petition signatures in recall campaigns lodged against four Republicansenators found large disparities between the number of signatures claimed by recall committees and the signature count scanned and made public by the Government Accountability Board, or GAB.

That means one of two things, said Mark Antill, executive director of TruetheVote.org, a nonprofit aligned with the tea party that advocates for election integrity.

Either the campaigns inflated the number of signatures or the GAB, which oversees the state’s campaign finance, elections, ethics and lobbying laws, posted incomplete files on its website.

“It’s more likely they were omitted,” said Antill, whose organization is using proprietary software to verify more than 2 million signatures filed in recall campaigns against the senators, Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

Unaccounted for?

TruetheVote is analyzing the data for Verify the Recall, a joint venture of the Wisconsin GrandSons of Liberty and We the People of the Republic, tea party organizations aligned with fiscal conservative movements. The venture bills itself as a grassroots effort of more than 12,000 volunteers checking the validity of the recall petitions.

Ross Brown, founder of the Dane County-based We the People of the Republican who helped launch Verify the Recall, did not return calls from Wisconsin Reporter.

Antill said a number of the GAB’s public files were corrupted, blocking users from opening them.

Last month committee seeking to recall state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, reported to the GAB and public that it had collected 20,600 signatures — 123 percent of the 16,742 needed to force a recall.

TruetheVote said the GAB’s public database included 14,061 signatures. Antill estimated that around 270 pages of petitions were missing from the public file.

GAB spokesman Reid Magney told Wisconsin Reporter said he could not explain the disparity in the two sets of numbers.

“What we got from the (recall) committees was their estimate. That’s the number we included on our website,” he said. “We’ve gone through the petitions ourselves, but we are not releasing how many signatures we have found.”

A Wisconsin Reporter computer-assisted analysis earlier this month found 200 pages of recall petitions missing from the GAB’s public database of more than 150,000 pages of signatures the recall Walker committee filed.

GAB confirmed the gaps in the database, vowing to update the file.

Magney at the time said he did not know why the pages were omitted, but asserted the omission was inadvertent.

In the other recall campaigns, the committee to recall state Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, told GAB it collected more than 21,000 signatures. TruetheVote said about 1,000 signatures were missing from the online database.

The committee to recall Sen. Pam Galloway, R-Wausau, said it turned in more than 21,000 signatures. TruetheVote said about 3,000 signatures were missing from the file.

And the organization working to recall Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, reported collecting more than 24,000 signatures. TruetheVote said the GAB file is missing at least 1,500 signatures.

As it plows through the 1 million-plus signatures reportedly filed in the Walker recall, Antill said his initiative has found mixed-up files, including signatures in the Kleefisch recall in the Walker PDFs.

“We can only process what we can,” Antill said.

Inside the numbers

Still, Antill said TruetheVote’s review found Fitzgerald safe from recall. Based on “conservative estimates,” he said the recall committee has submitted 12,833 valid or eligible signatures — about 4,000 less than required.

Even adding in the missing pages, Antill said, Fitzgerald would have a safe challenge.

Lori Compas, of Fort Atkinson, who has led the campaign against Fitzgerald, expressed confidence earlier this week that the committee’s signatures would stand up and the senator would be recalled.

Fitzgerald “can complain about the process all he wants, but the facts are the facts,” she told Wisconsin Reporter. “Anyone can go online and see the petitions, see our effort was honest and legitimate.”

Perhaps not, according to TruetheVote.

Challenging the line

Fitzgerald and the other Republicans are challenging thousands of signatures collected outside of the new district boundaries. The new maps, laid out by the majority Republicans, are being contested in court.

The GOP has argued that the updated boundaries, ordered to change every decade with the new census, should be used in the recall campaigns and possible elections, not employed for the first time in the November 2012 general election.

But the GAB, with guidance from state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, said the current district maps should be used in recall campaigns.

Fitzgerald said there would be nearly 6,000 ineligible signatures, based on those constituents living outside of the 13th Senate District under the new boundaries.

Wanggaard is challenging 20,427 signatures, much of which are based on redistricting, according to a Wisconsin Reporter review of challenges filed on the GAB website. The senator said less than 13,000 signatures were gathered in what would be the old 21st Senate District, not the newly drawn district. Under the existing maps, Wanggaard is challenging 133 of the signatures.

Galloway said 1,683 signatures were collected from outside the new maps, and is challenging 674 under the current maps.

Moulton is challenging 6,260 signatures that would be outside the new district, and 588 under the current boundaries.

TruetheVote’s analysis, using the current maps, shows Moulton with a strong challenge, within about 300 contested signatures of avoiding recall.

Galloway and Wanggaard have a huge uphill battle staving off recall under the existing boundaries.

TruetheVote found the Galloway recall committee hits the threshold by more than 1,000 signatures, and about 5,000 signatures in the case of the Wanggaard recall committee.

Randolph Brandt, treasurer of the Committee to Recall Wanggaard, on Thursday said he’s confident the campaign will have enough signatures to recall.

Dan Romportl, executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, which is said to be speaking for the four incumbents, has not returned several phone calls and emails from Wisconsin Reporter over the past two days.

Recall committees have five days to rebut the challenges, filed late Thursday, and the incumbents will have another two days to respond.

Incumbent challenges to recall signatures

Fitzgerald challenges:

  • Fictitious name – Timothy P. Sucker. The challenge notes the incumbent could not find a valid voter registration for Sucker.

Moulton challenges:

  • A few names with “Chippewa” instead of Chippewa Falls municipality listing.

Wanggaard challenges:

  • Signatures of 12 known felons, the most felon challenges among the four senators.

Galloway challenges:

  • Petitions “blacked out.” Review of petitions shows black marker crossing out “Petition to Recall Pam Galloway” at the top of the page.
  • Challenging municipality address issues, signers wrote “ditto” instead the municipality.