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Wed March 7, 2012
New Database Allows People to Search Recall Petitions
It will soon be relatively easy to learn who signed the recall petitions against Gov. Scott Walker and four Republican state senators.
On Wednesday, two Tea Party groups plan to activate the searchable online database they’ve created.
It contains the names and addresses of all petition signers.
As WUWM’s Ann-Elise Henzl reports, the state made the information available weeks ago, but not in a searchable format.
The new website is the brainchild of two Tea Party groups, Wisconsin GrandSons of Liberty and We the People of the Republic.
Co-organizer Ross Brown says they call their service Verify the Recall.
“We are empowering Wisconsinites to essentially investigate their own corners of the world,” Brown says.
Brown says the Tea Party groups want to make sure the recall process is transparent and honest. So they enlisted hundreds of volunteers -- some from other states -- to enter the information on recall petitions into a database.
“It is searchable by first name, last name, street address, city, zip code, municipality, signature date, or any combination thereof," Brown says.
Brown says the effort will make it easy for people to find out if the state counted them among those pushing for recall elections.
“We’ve received many inquires from people over the last few months, saying I chose not to sign a recall petition – or I did choose, in fact, to sign a recall petition -- I want to have some tool available to me to ensure that either my name did not show up, or to in fact confirm that their name was counted in the recall,” Brown says.
While anyone can search the site, Brown expects most to simply look up their own name. But if anyone notices suspect entries, the Tea Party groups will forward the information to the state Government Accountability Board.
GAB spokesman Reid Magney says it would welcome those details.
“If they find evidence of fraud, we’re very interested in that. Likewise, if individuals who go through this website, for example, and search for their name, and in the event they were to find their name and they didn’t actually sign the petition, we are also interested in that, as it may relate to fraud and possible referral to a prosecutor,” Magney says.
However, Magney says the Tea Party groups cannot challenge recall signatures.
“State law says we are only able to accept challenges from the office holder’s committee, not from third parties, not from individuals. That being said, we will certainly look at this information from Verify the Recall, if they provide it to us,” Magney says.
Not everyone is welcoming the Verify the Recall website. Carmen Pitre of the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee worries about those seeking refuge from abuse.
“We’re concerned that people who are in hiding -- who are survivors of domestic violence, who count on staying in hiding -- we’re concerned that their addresses and names will be published and abusers who are looking for them will now be able to find where they live and where they reside. That’s a big concern for us,” Pitre says.
Pitre says her organization has posted information on its website about the searchable recall petition database and will try to help clients get their names removed.
The Tea Party groups say they will redact names of people who, under state law, have confidential voting status. Those are voters who’ve taken steps with their municipality to have their addresses deleted from the poll book.
Reid Magney of the Government Accountability Board says recall petitions have always been public; they’re just easier to share these days. Before the Internet, a search entailed visiting the state elections office and photocopying the documents one page at a time.