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Friday, December 16, 2011

Republicans still blaming the GAB for following the law

by folkbum

There's an old saw among lawyers--well, I don't know if any of them use it, but us common folk have heard it a lot and assume it is so--about how to win your case. When the facts are on your side, they say, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither the facts nor the law is on your side, pound the table.

Yesterday, the Wisconsin GOP pounded the table so hard it darn near broke.

Here are the facts: United Wisconsin and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin are two-thirds of the way to their goal of 720,000 signatures to recall Governor Walker (540,000 is the trigger number, but they want a cushion). A certainty--though not technically a fact, yet--is that some of those signatures will turn out to be invalid, either because they are duplicates or phony or incomplete. This happens all the time in signature drives, and is why there needs to be a cushion. It is a fact that UW and DPW have announced that they will be trying to identify and remove those invalid signatures before turning them in (and have already started, reflecting that process in the number released yesterday). Still, that in just one month, more than half a million signatures have been collected and turned into the groups for collation and verification, has to rankle Walker and his supporters.

Here is the law: Wisconsin Statutes §.9.10, which governs recalls. The Government Accountability Board, charged with overseeing all elections in the state including recalls, has some duties to perform when it comes to signatures in a recall election. There's a list of reasons why the GAB could reject a signature, including duplication or phoniness, as well as things like the signer being too young to vote or having a bad date next to the signature. The law also places duties and responsibilities onto the parties collecting signatures and the objects of the recall who would challenge those signatures. Note, for example, paragraph (g): "The burden of proof for any challenge rests with the individual bringing the challenge." In other words, the GAB is not the party responsible for finding and challenging duplicate or phony signatures; rather, it's the challengers, by law, who have the burden to prove that a signature is invalid.

Now, what the GAB has said is that if there are obvious flaws or suspicious aspects to a signature--like a possible phony one--they will flag it to make sure the challenger sees it and investigates it. But the GAB is not empowered to make all these challenges itself. (And, as noted, United Wisconsin is going to try to verify the signatures before they turn them in to minimize how many can be challenged.)

So, here's the table:
Gov. Scott Walker's campaign and the state Republican Party director sued the state's elections and ethics agency in Waukesha on Thursday over its handling of duplicate and bogus signatures in the ongoing recall effort against the governor. [. . .]

The lawsuit filed Thursday in Waukesha County Circuit Court asks a judge to order the accountability board to look for and eliminate duplicate signatures, clearly fake names and illegible addresses. [. . .] The lawsuit says allowing multiple signatures is a violation of the equal protection clauses of the state and U.S. constitutions.
Why, yes, allowing multiple signatures would be a bad thing, and that's why §.9.10 of the Wisconsin Statutes prohibits counting them. Here's the law: "(i) If a challenger can establish that a person signed the recall petition more than once, the 2nd and subsequent signatures may not be counted."

Wait, wha? The law says that a challenger has to establish that the signature is a duplicate? You don't say!

Clearly, the law does not give the GAB any authority itself to seek out and eliminate duplicates. Your Wisconsin GOP is suing to demand that the GAB do exactly that. They are doing the same thing--suing the GAB--because the GAB earlier insisted on following the redistricting law as it was written; that case is still pending. Both cases need to be laughed out of court.

(Note that as part of their reform efforts, the state Republicans changed the law governing where lawsuits against the state could be filed. It used to be Dane County, where, you know, the government lives. But now plaintiffs can venue-shop, and both suits against the GAB were filed in ultra-conservative Waukesha County.)

It is utterly unremarkable anymore that the state Republican Party has such disrespect for the law. As if we needed any more reasons to recall them.

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