Today, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) will take formal action to schedule the first recall election of a sitting U.S. governor in more than a decade. Since the recall effort began in November of 2011, conservative media outlets have been alleging massive fraud, but now that the GAB has gone through extraordinary effort and expense to certify the recall and count the petitions, what is the status of the fraud allegations?
The GAB will announce that volunteers collected over 900,000 signatures to trigger the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker -- the highest number of signatures calling for the removal of a siting governor, per capita, in U.S. history. Only 540,000 signatures were required. The GAB will also certify the recall of Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, with over 800,000 signatures. The recalls are anticipated to be scheduled for June 5.
No "Floods" of Phony Signatures
Initial claims of "fraudulent" or "phony" signatures began soon after the recall drive itself. On December 13th of last year, the MacIver Institute posted a video report on the GAB's screening process, with the inflammatory title "Wis. Election Officials to accept Mickey Mouse, Hitler Signatures." This misleading statement implied that the GAB would count these signatures, which quickly earned them a "mostly false" rating from Politifact.com.
Nonetheless, this story was picked up by right-wing media talkers like Rush Limbaugh, who one day later used these claims as evidence of a massive conspiracy to inundate Wisconsin with fake signatures. "It means all the unions and other Democrats have to do is flood the system with so many phony signatures that there's neither the time nor manpower to challenge them all," he said. Limbaugh predicted that "they can't get legitimate signatures, so they're gonna be allowed to submit signatures of people who are dead or are cartoon characters as legitimate signatories to a recall petition."
This fraud theme has been repeated endlessly on right-wing radio in the state and in dozens of other venues, parallel with allegations that the majority of Wisconsin protestors were from out of state.
Usually problems with recall signatures are weeded out by lawyers working on behalf of the candidates. But because of these unfounded allegations of fraud and the huge volume of recall petitions that were submitted, Wisconsin Republicans succeeded in forcing the GAB to do the work for them. They petitioned a judge in friendly Waukesha County to force the GAB to create a costly, unprecedented database and hire employees to weed out duplicates and fake signatures. That court ruling was later overturned by an appellate court, yet the GAB moved ahead with the hiring of dozens of new employees, the creation of the database, and a review for duplicates, which added weeks of delay to the process.
That review was completed and the results announced by GAB staff yesterday. The election is anticipated to be formally certified by the GAB board today.
MacIver Institute Predictions Wrong
Upon receiving the signatures, the GAB worked hard to scan them and post them online so that all parties could examine them. In a February 6 interview on the Mike Gousha Show, the most respected TV news show in Wisconsin, MacIver Institute President Brett Healy declared that he had personally reviewed the thousands of pages of petitions, and by his estimate almost one third of the signatures would be invalidated, and only 650,000 signatures would be found valid.
Yet in the end, the final count released by the GAB on March 29 found an error rate of only about 3.2 percent -- about a tenth of Healy's initial prediction of 33 1/3 percent. This is no surprise to the 30,000 volunteers of the grassroots group United Wisconsin, who collected and submitted signatures and established a multi-stage review process to make sure that every signature was clear and complete, and made their best effort to eliminate duplicates.
While only 931,000 signatures were submitted, slightly short of the one million claimed, the GAB disqualified only 30,000 from the Walker recall, and about 34,000 from the Kleefisch recall. The three percent error rate is significantly below the 15 percent rate predicted by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. It was also dramatically below the 30 percent rejection rate for the one million signatures collected for the referendum to reverse SB-5, the Ohio collective bargaining measure, in 2011.
The Wisconsin GAB has recently released a statement giving comparably low error rates on the petitions to recall state senators Fitzgerald, Wanggaard, Moulton, and Galloway.
"True the Vote" Predictions False
As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported, the Texas Tea Party group "King Street Patriots" said they were compelled to intervene in Wisconsin's recall effort because of the massive fraud allegations, and conducted their own analysis of the recall data under the title "Verify the Recall."
They began their project by announcing, "We have all been hearing reports of duplicate signatures, questionable practices, and downright fraud in the gubernatorial recall effort." The group, which has a history of voter suppression, recruited volunteers from around the country to enter signatures into a database developed by the group's "True the Vote" project. They claimed that "it seems likely that... fraud is rampant with this recall effort. Many of these petitions will likely be found filled with fake names or names illegally added to petitions." Their analysis deemed 55,608 "ineligible" and an additional 228,940 signatures requiring "further investigation," leaving only 534,685 eligible signatures by their count -- 6,000 fewer than what was needed to trigger a recall. However, an analysis by CMD found that almost all of those signatures were perfectly valid.
The GAB review showed the True the Vote allegations of massive problems to be false. In order for a signature to be fraudulent, there would have to be an intent to deceive. Of the three percent of signatures that were actually discounted by the GAB, there were 26,000 incompletes and 4,000 duplicates. With multiple recall petitions being circulated and claims of false circulators and petitions being burned, there could be many reasons for duplicates. Five "fraudulent" signatures were found: a Mick E. Maus, Adolf Hitler, Fungky VanDen Elzen, Donald Duck and "I Love Scott Walker Thanks," but joke signatures are hardly likely to come from proponents of the recall. The GAB may even have made a mistake on the Fungky VanDen Elzen name since this young woman appears to have an odd name but a regular Facebook page with lots of friends in Wisconsin.
One man in Racine added a few signatures in the name of his neighbors and family members. But this isolated incident did not go unchecked -- the man is facing felony charges. A handful of problems hardly constitute a "flood" of fraud, but these rare instances been repeated endlessly in the past few months by conservative media sources such as American Thinker, the MacIver institute and Red State, and even on the website for the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
Dire predictions of "rampant signature fraud" and "floods" of phony signatures have been proven false. We hope that MacIver, "True the Vote," and other groups that alleged fraud will promptly and professionally apologize to United Wisconsin, the grassroots group that gathered the signatures. But we will not hold our breath.