Friday, March 30, 2012

Why are there so few invalid signatures in Wisconsin? Comparison with past recall gathering campaigns

Update Below:

A look at the GAB's totals show very few invalid signatures for the Walker recall. 931,053 signatures were handed in. 900,938 were found valid (4,001 duplicates, 26,114 struck out by staff). This a 3.2% failure rate. For Kleefisch, the failure rate was 4%.

Generally, we have come to expect a 10-15% failure rate. Note that in the Gray Davis recall the failure rate was just under 18%. In other states, we've seen much larger failure rates (though it is hard to say whether the state laws prevent a full count, or every one just gives up on fighting once they hit the needed limit). Arizona Senate Majority Leader Russell Pearce recall last year may have seen a 42% failure rate. On the other hand, the Michigan State Rep Paul Scott recall had a 9.4% failure rate.

The Miami-Dade Mayoral recall, the largest recall by population of last year (they collected over 100,000 signatures), saw a 16% failure rate.

Update: Richard Winger of Ballot Access News points out in the comments below that Wisconsin law differs from other states in that it allows eligible voter in the state, not just any registered voter (as in the other states). This is clearly a critical point, but it doesn't invalidate the discussion.

Let's look at the Wisconsin senate signatures. For the Galloway petitions, there were 21,022 signatures handed in, and the GAB struck out 1,658. Galloway further challenged 863. The board did not bother looking at the challenged signatures So, the failure rate on the GAB was 7.8%. If we add in the Galloway protests, it is close to 12%. The Wanggaard petitions are a little more complex, as he challenged many more signatures -- if all of his signature challenges had been approved, it would be a early 20% failure rate. From the board's review it was less than 3%. For Moulton, the board threw out 5.7% of the signatures. His challenges would have pushed it up to about 11%. For Fitzgerald, the board tossed out 4.1%. With his challenges, it would be just under 12%

My guess would be that it is some combination of vetting by the petitioners before handing in the signatures, better training of signature gatherers and the fact that Walker did not contest the signatures. The burden shifting certainly does matter -- though in this case it was simply academic. If Walker could have gotten a high failure rate, say 20%, I think he would have contested, simply for the PR value.

As for the Mickey Mouse signature claimNote that the elections officials claimed to have found only 5 fake names in the Walker petitions: Adolf Hitler, Mick E. Mous, Donald L. Duck, Fungky Van Den Elzen, and I Love Scott Walker Thanks. 


  1. In Wisconsin, any adult resident citizen may sign petitions. This is not true in the other states listed above; in those other states signers must be registered voters.

  2. That is an excellent point -- I should have thought of that -- and I'll update it accordingly. However, the number of valid signatures is still incredibly low. Note that there was a much higher failure rate in the signatures for state Senators in Wisconsin. For example, in the Galloway recall, the board recommended striking down 7.8% of the signatures, and Galloway herself challenged another 4%.

  3. In Wisconsin, everyone who is eligible to vote is able to sign recall petitions. There are age and residency requirements, and convicted felons serving time or out on parole or probation cannot sign.

    The organizers of the effort to recall Gov. Walker reviewed each petition twice in search of obvious errors or fraud. Those who are seeking to recall the four Republican state senators probably did not.

    1. People who think that their first signature might not be counted because of defacement, loss, or other mishap are allowed to sign another petition for the same recall. There is no penalty in WI for signing more than once.