Scare Tactics of the WPRI: Or, Why Christian Schneider Thinks People With Funny Names Should not Sign Recall Petitions

You're going to call me WHAT!?Christian Schneider, who is a “senior policy fellow” at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, wrote a breathless article last week for the National Review Online decrying the “Mickey Mouse” recall process in Wisconsin.  Schneider noted that the Government Accountability Board announced that it would merely flag suspect names like “Adolph Hitler” or “Mickey Mouse” that appeared on recall petitions.  This, of course, is in keeping with established Wisconsin law that requires official challenges by the incumbent officeholder to formally strike names from recall petitions.

Schneider evidently believes that this is much too much work for Scott Walker and the crack legal team at Michael Best and Friedrich, the Governor’s loyal counselors.  Schneider conjures up a dramatic hypothetical situation involving a befuddled “elderly volunteer” who scans the recall petitions and does not spot clearly fraudulent names like “Wyatt Donnelly,” “Freddy Newandyke,” “Frances Buxton,” and “Emil Schuffhausen.”

You see, Schneider chortles, these names are characters from “Weird Science,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and he jokes that “unless Leonard Maltin is scanning those signature sheets on that day, all those names will count.”  The horror.

Let’s investigate some of these names.

(1) According to the 1870 census, Frances G. Buxton was a dressmaker in Oshkosh. Certainly, none of her descendants would share this name.  Furthermore, according to the Social Security Death Index, ten people with the name “Frances Buxton” have died in the U.S. since 1970.  Clearly, it’s impossible that someone in Wisconsin might be named “Frances Buxton” and might want to recall Scott Walker.

(2) According to page 148 of this 2008-2009 yearbook “Wyatt Donnelly” was a student at Shawnee East Mission High School in Kansas. Apparently, if young Donnelly moved to Wisconsin after high school, Christian Schneider does not think he should be able to sign a petition against Scott Walker.

(3) Emily Schaffhausen works at Texas A&M.  If she ever moved to Wisconsin, does her name too closely resembles that of a fictional character for her to be allowed to try to recall the governor?

(4) According to the Social Security Death index, at least 6 people with the last name Newendyke (including one person with the first named Winifred) have lived and died in Whiteside, Illinois since 1970.  If a relative named “Fred” moved to Wisconsin and disliked Scott Walker, would Schneider allow him to sign a recall petition? Or, would he be disqualified for the offense of having an odd name?

These simple examples clearly indicate why it is the responsibility of the incumbent office holder to challenge allegedly spurious names and to prove that they are illegitimate. By themselves, odd, unconventional, or famous names on a petition are not evidence of misconduct. Recall petition names must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, unless we believe that  funny names or names resembling those of famous people or of fictional characters should never count.

This is perhaps not the best possible way to handle recall petitions, but it is current state law. The alternative of striking suspect or funny names without the necessary investigations to prove fraud is unacceptable.

Various states have vastly different procedures for  verifying the signatures on citizen petitions. A system like Nebraska’s, where they send the petitions to county clerks who then validate the signatures, would probably be a much needed improvement. Of course, this would require the state legislature to act in the best interests of the state of Wisconsin and to provide more funding for the Government Accountability Board.  Naturally, Jeff Fitzgerald is threatening to kill the GAB in favor of the pre-2007-style partisan elections and ethics boards.  All for the GAB’s sin of following the law.

In the meantime, Christian Schneider’s “elderly volunteers” will be put to work trying to strike the obviously fraudulent names they find on recall petitions, like “Scott Walker.”  After all, the governor would never sign his own recall petition, right?  Of course, lists 30 other people named Scott Walker in Wisconsin, some of whom may not much like their doppelganger in the Governor’s mansion.  Let’s also not tell Christian Schneider about the 37 Michael/Mike Ellises, the 11 Scott Fitzgeralds, the 6 Jeff Fitzgeralds… or the 23 Chris Schneiders, who live in Wisconsin.

At least the GAB and Schneider’s “elderly volunteers” will be able to flag and to strike clearly fraudulent names like “Marijuana Pepsi Sawyer” if they show up on a recall petition.  Wait, what’s that you say? Marijuana Pepsi Sawyer is a well-respected teacher in Beloit?

Christian Schneider would probably be appalled.


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