Verify the Recall, an effort backed by Tea Party groups to ensure the validity of petition signatures in Wisconsin's recall elections, is now 13,000 volunteers strong and organizers say one signature is being checked every 2.7 seconds.
Ross Brown, founder of We The People of the Republic, said Verify the Recall has gathered enough evidence in its vetting process to possibly put the brakes on the attempted recall of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).
And that’s just the start. Volunteers now are moving on to the reviewing the petitions seeking to .
But will their efforts all go for naught?
According to the Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections in Wisconsin, they just might.
Only candidates can challenge signatures
State law prohibits Verify the Recall and other outside groups from filing an official challenge of recall petitions. Therefore, the GAB will not consider any of the evidence or findings from an independent review of the petitions.
However, the Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty and We The People — the Tea Party groups behind the verification effort — aren’t going to give up without a fight. Brown said they plan to go to the courts and challenge this provision in the law that restricts them from submitting a formal challenge.
“We knew this was going to be an uphill battle and that we are in uncharted territory in terms of a third-party taking a vested interest in the process,” Brown told Patch. “We were hopeful that the GAB would accept our findings and recognize VTR as a legitimate entity, but it does appear that this will be heading to court at some point, and our attorneys are working on what that will look when that happens.”
GAB spokesman Reid Magney said some have suggested that because average citizens circulated recall petitions, average citizens should be able to file challenges.
However, he said, "state law provides that only the officeholder may file challenges. Average citizens can help officeholders check the recall petitions for invalid signatures, but the challenges have to be filed by the officeholder.”
Magney said the GAB would review the group’s findings. However, the Tea Party groups cannot make a formal legal challenge.
“We will certainly look at the findings of third-party groups who have examined the recall petitions for ways to improve the process, but the law does not allow us to consider their findings as official challenges,” Magney said in an e-mail to Patch.
Although the Verify the Recall requested the GAB consider its findings officially, the board isn’t willing to step outside its statutory limitations.
“Given the unprecedented nature of these recall efforts, it would be improper to change procedures in the midst of our review,” stated GAB Executive Director Kevin Kennedy in a memo to board members Tuesday. “The board should limit its review to its established statutory and administrative procedures subject to a court order.”
Is issue heading to court?
A court order is precisely what Ross and Verify the Recall volunteers are hoping for. On Jan. 20, Circuit Court Judge Mac Davis ordered the GAB to strike fake names and duplicate signatures from the petitions, although. In Davis’ decision, he said the GAB is “obligated to seek other resources if needed.”
That portion of his ruling forms the basis for the legal challenge crafted by Madison attorney James Troupis, who is representing Verify the Recall. In a letter to the GAB, Troupis outlined a legal challenge to the current law, and stated the data collected by Verify the Recall is that extra “resource” the GAB is obligated to use, if needed.
“We would suggest that Verify the Recall be allowed to participate in the process and submit its findings as an amicus curiae, or ‘friend of the process,” Troupis stated. “There is considerable support for such participation both in the law and the policies articulated recently by members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”
Group finds invalid signatures in Senate recall
The Verify the Recall group is employing software designed by a Texas-based group called True the Vote, which used the program in a congressional district vote in that state.
"We’re finding things that we expected to find," said Brown, of the We The People group. "Duplicate names and questionable signatures. It appears that the Sen. Fitzgerald recall attempt will not get the needed number of signatures based on our findings. That’s something on the radar right now of significance."
Recall organizers submitted more than 20,000 petitions to recall Fitzgerald, nearly 4,000 more than needed.
On Thursday, Fitzgerald — along with the other three Senate Republicans being targeted for recall — filed a formal challenge with the GAB over the petitions. Fitzgerald's complaint stated that thousands of signatures are invalid and that organizers did not present enough valid signatures to force a recall.
In addition to verifying the signatures, the Verify the Recall group also created a “No Sign” registry to protect people who did not sign a recall petition. Those who add their names to the list affirm they never signed a petition, and if their name appears on a recall petition during the group’s vetting process, those people will be contacted.
“We are trudging ahead, and we remain optimistic about having the GAB consider our findings," Brown said. "It’s unfortunate the GAB is forcing us into this legal path. There’s more to come and we are looking to getting this behind us."