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By James B. Nelson November 18, 2011

State Treasurer Kurt Schuller says recall petitions must be signed in presence of another person

Recall election season is underway again in Wisconsin, and there’s plenty of advice being bandied about. Sign the petitions, don’t sign them. You can do this, you can’t do that.

Some of it is deliberate confusion (or simplification) on the part of those who favor or opposed to recalling Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Some of it is just general confusion about laws and rules that until recently most had never encountered.

The rules for signatures gathered on recall petitions to be valid are relatively simple. Yet missteps or flaws will be used by election officials to disallow signatures, or by Walker’s team in challenges. That’s one reason recall organizers are hoping to collect up to 700,000 signatures, well more than the 540,208 valid signatures required to trigger a recall election.

A key rule governing the petitions is meant to insure that they are signed in the presence of someone called the "circulator."

"You don’t want them sitting in the back of a church, in bars or on bulletin boards" unattended, said  Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel for the state Government Accountability Board.

So when State Treasurer Kurt Schuller tweeted some legal advice about recall petitions, it caught our attention.

The first-term Republican treasurer and prolific tweeter (@WITreasSchuller) opposes the recall effort and offered his advice after he saw this tweet from a recall supporter called @Legaleagle: "If you can’t make it to a petition signing location, print one at home, sign it and return it."

Schuller re-tweeted that message with this advice: "This is a violation of election law. All signers must sign in the presence of the circulator."

Schuller told us he wanted to make it clear that the "instructions that the tweeter gave out were wrong."

"If everyone who saw that (tweet) followed those instructions exactly as they put it" the petitions would be invalid, he said. "That would be fraud. … For God’s sake, you’ve got to give them all of the information. If you just send back an individual affidavit, the election’s board won’t allow it."

Kennedy, whose agency enforces election rules, said Schuller has a point. Each recall petition signer must do so in the presence of a circulator. But he’s wrong the key point: You can function as both the signer and the circulator.

"You can certify your own signature," Kennedy said.

It’s done all the time in other state races, including that for treasurer, where candidates must gather signatures on nomination papers, he said.  

And it’s not illegal. The elections board took up the matter on Nov. 9, 2011 as it relates to recall petitions. The decision was that if someone prints out a petition and signs it, they must sign it a second time, at the bottom, as a circulator.

So what do we make of the treasurer’s tweets?

Schuller said on Twitter that it’s a "violation of election law" to print out and sign your own recall petition. He said he was responding to a tweet he felt was incomplete. But it’s not a violation of election law. The same person can be both the signer and the circulator.

We have a 10-character response for our rating of Schuller’s tweet: It’s False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Interview, Wisconsin State Treasurer Kurt Schuller, Nov. 16, 2011

Interview, Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel for the state Government Accountability Board, Nov. 16, 2011

Wisconsin Government Accountability Board Recall Election Information message from Kurt Schuller

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel archives

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State Treasurer Kurt Schuller says recall petitions must be signed in presence of another person

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