By DINESH RAMDE
WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — Recall groups targeting several Republican officials won’t be allowed to intervene in a lawsuit that will determine how the state elections board handles petition signatures, a Waukesha County judge ruled Thursday.
Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and the head of the Wisconsin Republican Party sued the Government Accountability Board two weeks ago, saying the board’s current process for reviewing signatures on recall petitions is unconstitutional and asking the judge to order it to be more aggressive in its review.
The board counters that state law places the burden of challenging those signatures on the office-holder being targeted for recall.
The case is pending, but it will go on without intervention from a number of recall groups. Judge Mac Davis cited a number of reasons for denying their request to intervene, including upcoming deadlines that compel a quick decision. Petition circulators who want to force a recall election against Walker need to submit 540,208 signatures by Jan. 17.
“This is the kind of case in which speediness is especially critical,” Davis said.
Allowing the recall groups to intervene could open the door for other citizens to demand a place at the table, and that could lead to “chaos,” he said. He also concluded that the recall committees’ interests would already be represented by the current defendants.
The next hearing will be Thursday. The judge and both sides said they expect to wrap up the matter that day.
Attorney Jeremy Levinson is representing the recall groups, which include committees to recall Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three Republican state senators. He said his groups deserve to be involved because any changes to the way that recall signatures are validated would also affect Democrats who are targeted by future recall efforts.
“I’m somewhat surprised” by the judge’s decision, he said.
The lawsuit asks Davis to order the Government Accountability Board to look for and eliminate duplicate signatures, illegible signatures and obviously fake names. The GAB has said signatures such as Mickey Mouse or Adolf Hitler wouldn’t automatically be struck as long as they were properly dated and had Wisconsin addresses.
Board director Kevin Kennedy has said previously that Wisconsin law requires the GAB to presume that petition signatures are valid, so staff can’t automatically strike names that might appear to be fake. That level of review would require a change in law, as well as a dramatic increase in resources, he said. After Thursday’s hearing, Kennedy reiterated his earlier statement that the GAB is doing what is required by law.
Joe Olson, an attorney representing the Walker campaign and the executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said he was happy about Thursday’s ruling. He also said he was more concerned with the overall case, because allowing invalid signatures would infringe on the constitutional rights of those who didn’t want to sign a recall petition.
“We want some clarification from the court for what the GAB is supposed to do when it gets signatures that are invalid on the face of the petition,” he said.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.