Wis. GOP Files Lawsuit Against Election Officials Over Recall Process

December 15, 2011 12:38 p.m.
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Wisconsin Republicans have mounted a new response to the effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker — filing a lawsuit today against the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections, alleging that Walker’s 14th Amendment constitutional rights are being violated by the procedures the board uses in verifying, accepting or rejecting petition signatures.

The state GOP’s legal complaint argues that the GAB’s procedures for recall petitions, which involve the incumbent’s campaign challenging duplicate signatures of people who would have signed more than once — place an undue burden on the Walker campaign. Under the law, the incumbent has a ten-day review period, in which to submit challenges.

“The GAB’s position that it is the responsibility of the Walker campaign to identify and challenge duplicate signatures flies in the face of the idea of a fair electoral process,” the party said in a press release.

When asked for comment, the GAB gave TPM this statement from Director Kevin Kennedy: “The plaintiffs are challenging the procedures that have been established by statutes and administrative code, and which have been in place since the late 1980s. Since then, these rules have been used in every state and local recall petition effort against incumbents of both parties.”State Dem spokesman Graeme Zielinski told TPM: “We have a system in place to review signatures before we submit them to the GAB. This doesn’t change our system and neither will it stop the recall of Scott Walker.”

Earlier Thursday, the Dems announced that they had collected over 507,000 signatures in 30 days, getting very close to the legal threshold of just over 540,000 signatures in 60 days. (They are also working towards a goal of 720,000 total, in order to have an absolute buffer against disqualification.) Zielisnki told TPM that this 507,000 figure takes into account the party’s own efforts to weed out bad signatures.

Somewhat ironically, the shortness of the ten-day challenge period came up in this past year’s state Senate recalls — involving allegations of signature fraud by paid Republican collectors. In the end, the GAB gave the green light to three recalls against incumbent Democrats, deciding that the high burden to disqualify enough signatures to stop the recalls had not been met.

The new complaint makes a novel, and very expansive, argument based on the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of Equal Protection — with what comes across as not just dry legalese, but also some points of political rhetoric:

16. The decision of one otherwise qualified elector to sign or not sign a recall petition can have no more weight than the decision of another otherwise qualified elector.

17. An elector who knowingly signs a recall petition with the intent to have his or her name counted more than once, and the GAB’s public acquiescence of such a situation, violates the Equal Protection rights of those otherwise qualified electors who choose not to sign a recall petition.

18. Not surprisingly, Scott K. Walker, has chosen not to sign a recall petition. The position of the GAB allows other, equally-situated qualified electors to have their decisions count more than the individual decision of Mr. Walker and the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of other Wisconsin electors who have chosen not to sign.

And here is the argument that the Walker campaign’s rights are being violated by having to do the work of challenging signatures:

21. A government agency may not place unequal burdens on respective electors. Under the GAB’s position, an elector signing multiple petitions with the intent that the signatures be counted more than once faces no deterrent or penalty. In order to be counted equally with that person, Scott K. Walker must undertake the burden (without the assistance of the GAB) of identifying and challenging multiple submissions of signatures by the elector.

22. Moreover, under current GAB rules, Scott K. Walker and FOSW [the Walker campaign committee — Friends Of Scott Walker] will have only 10 days to examine, compare and then challenge more than 540,000 signatures – more than 50,000 signatures a day. Under the applicable circumstances, it will be a practical impossibility for FOSW and Scott K. Walker to review, identify and challenge multiple signatures.

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