The state election agency will not be required to aggressively comb through hundreds of thousands of recall signatures in search of Adolf Hitlers and Daffy Ducks after all, following a ruling Friday by the state Court of Appeals.
However, Government Accountability Board spokesman Reid Magney said the board would continue to search for, and strike, "obviously fictitious" names, with or without the ruling.
The decision reverses a lower court's order that required the GAB seek out duplicate and blatantly phony recall petition signatures, a labor-intensive process that officials said could substantially prolong the validating process.
United Wisconsin, the organization formed to recall Gov. Scott Walker, turned in about 1.9 million recall signatures last month, targeting Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican senators.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin has more than 2,000 volunteers lined up to review signatures. The recall targets have different deadlines before which signatures must be challenged; Walker's is Feb. 26. It will take 540,208 to force a recall of Walker.
Stephan Thompson, executive director of the party, said Friday's ruling does not invalidate the need for "heightened transparency" and "integrity" in the process.
"We encourage the GAB to continue its effort to ensure that Wisconsin electors are not treated unfairly in this process," he said.
In its ruling, the 4th District panel said Waukesha County Circuit Judge Mac Davis should have allowed pro-recall groups to intervene in a lawsuit brought by Walker's campaign.
"We conclude that the recall committees are entitled to intervene as a matter of right," the court said.
The decision ordered Davis to reconsider all "later rulings that were made without the participation of the intervenors" — including the Jan. 5 ruling that GAB enact additional procedures to ferret out invalid signatures.
Walker's lawsuit alleged that the board's approach to reviewing recall petitions would allow multiple signatures from the same person, potentially fictitious names and illegible signatures and addresses.
Database too costly
Friday's ruling comes days after GAB Director Kevin Kennedy provided details about the board's plans to comply with Judge Davis' order to find and remove duplicate signatures. Kennedy told WisconsinEye that the creation of a database containing both names and addresses wasn't practical or economically feasible.
"When we do our duplicate review, we may have a searchable database, but it will be limited just to names," he said. "We will not include addresses in that because our focus is only to implement that part of the court's decision that deals with being proactively looking for duplicates."
Kennedy is expected to discuss the issue in more detail Tuesday, during GAB's next meeting.
The database was first discussed last month when GAB announced plans to spend some $100,000 on software to build it. The system was to be used to help petition reviewers search for duplicated names.
Earlier this week GAB posted the recall signatures online, despite privacy concerns raised by advocacy groups. The online petitions are not searchable, so anyone wishing to find a specific person's information may have to comb through hundreds of thousands of entries.