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By Dave Umhoefer December 2, 2011

One Wisconsin Now says it’s legal to sign Walker recall petitions more than once

The liberal group One Wisconsin Now, worried about possible confusion over who can sign petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker, issued a "recall petitioners’ rights" memo in late November 2011.

The group said you only have to be a qualified voter in Wisconsin; you don’t have to have voted here before or even have registered to vote.

Mildly surprising to some perhaps, but the next claim really jumped out.

The group wrote: "You can circulate or sign a recall petition even if you have already signed another recall petition (note, however, that only one signature per person will be counted)."

Can you really sign a petition twice?

And will it count for one signature -- or none, or two -- if you pen your name on separate petitions?

It’s one of many points, from both sides, that has prompted confusion -- and accusations that opponents are misleading folks for their advantage. We already looked at a few process-related questions.

Here’s one more.

In state statutes, the recall law (Section 9.10) lists eight ways a signature could be nullified. Among them: It’s not dated, was too early or late, the signer lives out of state, the address can’t be confirmed.

There was nothing noted about a case of multiple signatures.

But deeper in the statute, we found an answer: "If a challenger can establish that a person signed the recall petition more than once, the 2nd and subsequent signatures may not be counted."

That means the first signature is still good, but duplicates can be thrown out, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections the recall process.

That doesn’t guarantee they will be. It’s up to the incumbent to challenge the validity of signatures.

The state Accountability Board will review the petitions, but isn’t staffed to systematically check for duplicates, Magney said. That puts the onus on the gatherers or Walker’s side.

If people do sign more than once, they face no penalties.

"There are no legal restrictions," Magney said.

That doesn't speak to practical concerns.

Magney, for instance, noted that people signing more than once could put their own cause in jeopardy because that falsely inflates the true number of signatures.

Magney said the Government Accountability Board is not encouraging people to sign multiple times. But he added there is an instance in which they could be justified in doing so.

"People should not sign a petition more than once unless they have some good faith reason to believe that the first petition was somehow fraudulent and believes the circulator doesn’t intend to file it," Magney said.

Magney said the agency has tried to make that clear after an anonymous Facebook group (Operation Burn Notice) said it believed "burning recall petitions is fun and games."

One Wisconsin Now’s executive director, Scot Ross, cited the same motive for publicizing the fact that signing twice is not illegal.

The group is concerned about fraud, especially illegal destruction of recall petitions. Ross said One Wisconsin Now supports but is not directly involved in gathering signatures as the Democratic Party and allied groups push to get 540,208 valid signatures by Jan. 14, 2012, when the 60-day period closes.

On the right, recall critics including the Republican Party of Wisconsin, and the MacIver Institute for Public Policy, have raised a different set of concerns.

Also citing Facebook chatter, they have raised alarms about fraud and double counting, contending that some duplicates will not be weeded out by state officials.

"Without a systematic review of signatures, how will we know if the proper process was followed and the threshold for recall was reached legally?" Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, told us. "What is to stop someone from signing a petition three times or 30 times?"

Magney said the state agency will look for obvious cases of fraud.

Our conclusion

We can’t predict whether all multiple signers will be found, but state law makes clear that one -- and only one -- signature is to be counted. And it’s perfectly legal to sign more than once. That was the focus of the statement from One Wisconsin Now.

We rate it True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Republican Party of Wisconsin, "Potential Petition Fraud Reported to Recall Integrity Center," Nov. 21, 2011

One Wisconsin Now, "Recall Petitioners’ Rights," Nov. 22, 2011

Wisconsin statutes, Recall, 9.10

Wisconsin statutes, Recall, duplicate signatures, 9.10 (2) (i)

Email exchange with Reid Magney, spokesman, Government Accountability Board, Nov. 29, 2011

Interview with Scot Ross, executive director, One Wisconsin Now, Nov. 29, 2011

Email exchange with Brett Healy, president, MacIver Institute, Nov. 30, 2011

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More by Dave Umhoefer

One Wisconsin Now says it’s legal to sign Walker recall petitions more than once

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