Despite Some Issues with Petitions, Recalls Likely to Move Forward
Some fraud allegations were true, some were false, and some complaints will likely yield to an investigation. But there aren't enough to stop the recall from moving forward, state election official says.
The head of the agency that oversees elections in Wisconsin says there have been some instances of fraudulent signatures found on the petitions seeking to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker from office.
And with at least three outside groups going through the signatures looking for problems, Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy said his staff expects to hear even more allegations about possible fraud.
While the GAB and other agencies will investigate all such complaints, it's unlikely there will be enough of them to stop the recall from moving forward, Kennedy said in a memo released Friday.
"The highly polarized political atmosphere which has engendered the current recall initiatives has also generated a constant buzz of speculation about illegal activity with respect to the recall efforts," Kennedy wrote.
"This speculation has ranged from allegations of people signing a petition with a name other than their own, including fictitious characters, with made up addresses; claims of multiple signings by the same individual and threats of destruction of petition pages by opponents of the recall effort,"he added. "Both proponents and opponents of the recalls have spewed accusations through social media, email, voice mail, talk radio and the media."
The GAB has taken such allegations seriously, he noted, and is working with the state Department of Justice and district attorneys around Wisconsin to investigate such complaints.
However, "given the the large number of signatures over the required thresholds, it is not plausible to believe these complaints would have an impact on the ultimate sufficiency of the recall petitions," Kennedy said.
The effort to recall Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four Republican state senators began on Nov. 15. More than 1 million gubernatorial recall signatures were turned into the GAB, which has spent the last two months verifying them. Recall organizers needed to collect about 540,000 valid signatures to force an election.
Kennedy's memo was part of a packet of documents released Friday by the GAB in advance of the board's meeting in Madison on Monday. In the documents, Kennedy and the GAB staff said there are enough valid signatures to move forward with the recall elections involving the four GOP state senators, including Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine.
Kennedy also is recommending that the GAB on Monday ask a Dane County judge for more time to review the Walker recall petitions and proposed that recall elections be held in May and June.
In Kenney's memo, GAB officials reported that they investigated a claim made by an unidentified Milwaukee man who said he had signed the petition 80 times. The man’s name was referred to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, but the GAB never found that name on the petitions.
On the other hand, Mark Demet of Racine was charged earlier this month with two felony counts of election fraud/nomination certification and seven felony counts of misappropriating identifying information for financial gain. If convicted on all charges, Demet faces up to 42 years in prison and fines up to $90,000. Kennedy reported that those signatures were thrown out.
A Caledonia man who is a Walker supporter also told Patch that he had collected recall signatures and planned to burn them, but then he changed his mind. No law enforcement agency has requested the man's name.
Kennedy noted that recall organizers and the Republican Party of Wisconsin have set up websites and hotlines for people to register complaints about the recall process. Verify the Recall, a website that encouraged people to register their complaints, stated they intended to the help the GAB by offering an online searchable database of the signatures.
Kennedy said it was likely the GAB would get complaints from these sources and the agency intends to take those complaints seriously even though there may not be enough to stop the recall elections.
He said that the focus of an investigation should include whether the complaints represent “a pattern of activity or isolated events.” However, the specifics of those potential investigations will be discussed in closed session by the GAB.