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Our View: Why make recall elections even easier?

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Last week Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board signed off on a policy that allows single-signature petition forms to be submitted as part of recall campaigns.

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Under the change, petitions generated online could be printed out by an individual and mailed to the recall campaign, reducing the need for volunteers to go door-to-door to collect signatures.

We have a problem with that change on two counts.

First, it could conceivably open the door to fraud. Second, it makes the recall process, which should never be taken lightly, easier to initiate.

The policy does not allow people to sign the petitions online. Those wishing to submit a single-signature form would have to request one from a group that's registered with the state. They would then print it out on their own, sign it and send it along to the recall organizers.

The change was requested by Patrick Williams, who operates a website aimed at recalling Republicans. Williams says the online procedure reduces the need for recall organizers to "raise armies" of petition signature gatherers.

GAB staff determined there's nothing under current law that stops petitions from being submitted by a campaign this way.

But there was something reassuring about those "armies" of signature gatherers this past summer. While the gatherers weren't expected to check IDs and guarantee that those signing were eligible, it was assumed the petition circulators had some minimal training and did basic screening -- they probably weren't collecting signatures from minors, multiple signatures from one person or signatures from out-of-district residents.

The online process makes it easier to promote a recall but opens the door to possible abuses.

What's to stop one person -- or dozens or even hundreds -- from ordering multiple petitions and signing multiple names with different addresses?

And while the GAB staffers don't seem daunted by the prospect of getting tens of thousands of sheets of paper with only one signature apiece, we doubt that stack of paper will be easy to handle -- either for GAB staff or for recall targets attempting to check the validity of signatures.

As we see it, much effort should be required of those seeking to recall a legitimately elected official. While the recall process -- already easier in Wisconsin than most other states -- can be a valid tool to unseat an official who has done something egregious, forcing a recall election to overturn a previous election should take a lot of effort. More effort than it takes to set up a web page.

A report last week on the plan says it would reduce the need for "traditional signature drives." Since recall efforts have, until now, been rare in Wisconsin, there is nothing "traditional" about them.

The ability to force a recall vote serves a purpose. But those who campaigned hard and convinced a majority of voters to check their name should be given the chance to prove their worth without us all being subjected to constant campaigns.

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