If Dave Gray of Ripon, Wisconsin, is right – and I believe he is – there’s a relatively simple way to stop the movement to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in its tracks. And perhaps even a way to send recall activists to jail.
To borrow a quote from the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
That’s because recall supporters are publicly urging Wisconsinites to sign these petitions more than once, even though only one signature is supposed to count under state law. A Milwaukee man evidently took this advice to heart and signed 80 times.
It’s like the Chicago rule, “Vote Early and Often.” Except here it’s a “vote” to hold a special recall election midway in Walker’s first term as governor, which he kicked off with the enactment of measures limiting collective bargaining for state employees.
Membership in public employee unions has been soaring in recent years (it’s now 37.4%), while private union membership has been plummeting. It’s now reduced to 7.2% of all private workers.
Public employee unions therefore are awash in money from mandatory union dues, and the recall campaign will be a fight to the death.
Many millions of dollars in campaign funds will be spent by both sides in the Walker recall election, drawn from across the United States, not to mention the costs to taxpayers to hold an extra statewide election. In the recall elections last summer, about $30 million in campaign funding was spent. And that involved only eight state senate races. The Walker recall election will, of course, be statewide.
So all things considered, you’d think state election officials would be obliged to make sure the Walker recall petition signatures are authentic. But you would be wrong.
The state’s so-called election watchdog, the Government Accountability Board (GAB), anticipates receiving 1.5 million petition signatures by the mid-January deadlines, though only 540,208 signatures are needed. So long as all the blanks on the petition forms are filled in, the GAB will presume every single one of those signatures is valid – even the signatures of “Mickey Mouse” and “Adolph Hitler” – and it will assume every signer is over 18 and every address is real. It will not check for duplicates, nor will it verify names, ages, and addresses. It’s up to Walker forces to check the validity of all 1.5 million signatures.
It’s probably an impossible task. The GAB’s half-hearted petition review will cost over $600,000 and take 60 days. The Walker campaign will have only 10 days to drill down into the petition data and do a full-blown verification of it. There’s no easy way to do this.
All Wisconsin residents over the age of 18 are “qualified electors” and all can lawfully sign recall petitions. Signers need not be registered voters. State and local officials don’t keep lists of all Wisconsin “qualified electors,” or of all persons over 18 residing at any particular address. Recall petition signers are not required to show any identification before they sign. In some communities, petition circulators are soliciting “drive-by” signatures, stopping the drivers of cars on major thoroughfares.
Thus, the opportunity to game the system with duplicate, forged, or faked signatures is almost irresistible – especially knowing that Walker opponents virulently despise Walker and live by the motto “by any means necessary” insofar as his removal from office is concerned.
But Gray found a possible way under Wisconsin law to cut through this clutter.
Gray is a former mayor and city council president of Ripon, which claims, by the way, to be the birthplace of the Republican Party, of which Gray is a member. Now retired, he was a senior executive at one of the largest employers in Ripon for 21 years, the last few as president. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
It all started when he went to the Ripon post office a few weeks ago:
On Dec. 1, I stopped in front of our local post office, where two men had set up shop to collect signatures to recall Gov. Scott Walker. I signed their petition to test them. I did not know these guys at all, and I am almost certain neither of them knew me.
Gray noted the recall petition required one of the two men in front of the post office to sign each petition, stating, on penalty of felony charges – that:
I know that the signers are electors of the jurisdiction or district represented by the officeholder named in this petition. I know that each person signed the paper with full knowledge of its content on the date indicated opposite his or her name. I know their respective residences given. I support this recall petition. I am aware that falsifying this certification is punishable under §.12.13(3)(a), Wis. Stats.
This language is taken directly from state law, which also provides that a person violating that statutory section is subject to a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for six months, or both.
Gray believes the circulator, in the case of his signature at least, could not truthfully sign this certification. Though he is staunchly opposed to recalling Walker, he signed the petition. That was a smart move on his part. “My signing it made their paper fraudulent,” he told me.
He wrote about his experience in a letter to the editor, which was published last week in the Ripon Commonwealth Press and the Capital Times (Madison) relating his theory as to circulator certification. His letter stated, in part:
If the petition carrying my name and address was certified by the circulator and forwarded for the recall, it is fraudulent and should be declared invalid.
It is likely that thousands of signatures collected at public places — all those signed by complete strangers to the recall petition circulators — are as illegal as the one I signed.
The Capital Times refused to publish his letter to the editor without a response by the GAB. The Capital Times asked for a response, got one from the GAB, and published it. It said:
Editor’s note: According to the Government Accountability Board, the wording in the petition requires the circulator and the petition signer to be in the same place when the petition is signed. In other words, the argument made in the letter is incorrect.
The GAB’s position that its ability to check for duplicate, forged, and outright fake signatures is confined by state law is accurate, in my view. But its position, as reported by the Cap Times editor, on the significance of the circulator certification language is entirely contrary to state law, in my view. The law imposes on petition circulators the burden that they “know” signers of the petition they have circulated are over 18 and “know” their residences, not just that they occupy “the same place” at the time of signing.
Earlier this year, Walker opponents and demonstrators blithely flouted the law in numerous ways in Madison, from faked doctors’ excuses for demonstrators, to the illegal 24/7 occupation of the capital building, to issuing graphic death threats to Republican legislators. One such threat said:
We will hunt you down. We will slit your throats. We will drink your blood. I will have your decapitated head on a pike in the Madison town square. This is your last warning.
One would think such actions would have serious consequences. But not in Madison. Walker opponents knew leftist police, prosecutors, and city officials there sympathized with them and even enabled their (alleged) lawlessness.
It may be a different story for lawbreakers in Ripon, birthplace of the Republican Party, though.
The circulator who got Dave Gray to sign a Walker recall petition without knowing him or where he lived should be afraid of felony prosecution. Very afraid.
I love it when a plan comes together.