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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher March 15, 2012

Democrats say more than 1 million signatures were submitted to recall GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin declared on Jan. 17, 2012 that it had submitted to the state elections board more than 1 million signatures on petitions to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

That figure -- far exceeding the 540,208 signatures of "eligible electors" needed to force Walker into a recall election -- was proudly proclaimed by Democratic chairman Mike Tate in an online video.

"I can announce that your grassroots movement, right now, is delivering to the Government Accountability Board over 1 million signatures collected to recall Scott Walker," he said. "This represents nearly double, or 185 percent, of the total required. It is simply breathtaking."

The party said it had submitted more than 1 million signatures even after removing an undisclosed number that were duplicates, illegible or seemingly fake.

It repeatedly cited the figure, including at a news conference, in a blog post and in statements. So did other groups such as United Wisconsin, which participated in the signature gathering, and the web site

So did commentators and reporters.

But until the Government Accountability Board reviewed the petitions, there was no official account of just how many signatures had been submitted.

The key question, of course, is whether there are 540,208 valid signatures. The board is continuing its review, although even Republicans expect there will be enough valid signatures for a Walker recall election to be held later in 2012.

Nevertheless, many readers have asked us about the eye-popping 1 million claim, noting that it has become an awful catchy shorthand for success.

On March 12, 2012, the Government Accountability Board announced that 931,042 signatures had been submitted to recall Walker.

That’s a lot of signatures, but not 1 million.

On the day the GAB announced its official figure, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter asked state Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski in an email why there was a difference of nearly 69,000 between the number of signatures the party announced and the number counted by the elections board.

Zielinski replied he didn’t know, then backtracked, calling the "over 1 million" claim an estimate.

Said Zielinski: "Nobody knows how many signatures were submitted because of the sheer volume and the way the signatures were counted in the closing days. That's why we estimated our total."

But the number was never presented as an estimate.

What’s more, the party and United Wisconsin said they created their own database of the signatures before submitting them to the state board.

(Tea party groups have released what they say is a searchable databases of recall petitions filed against four Republican state senators, and have said they would release one for the Walker. A Journal Sentinel review of a random sampling of 500 Walker recall signatures found that 15 percent of them could not be verified, indicating there still would be enough valid signatures to force an election.)

We emailed Zielinski the day after the state board announced its figure, to see if he had anything more for us to consider.

He said the party stands by its more than 1 million claim, but again called it an estimate. He also said the board’s count doesn't include "rehabilitated signature affidavits and may not have included thousands of signatures where Rebecca Kleefisch signatures were mixed with Scott Walker signatures."

The board has counted 842,860 submitted signatures on petitions to recall Kleefisch, the GOP lieutenant governor, in what essentially is a joint effort to remove both Walker and Kleefisch from office.

We asked Government Accountability Board spokesman Reid Magney about Zielinski’s comments.

The board’s count of 931,042 is the "raw number" of signatures submitted by the Walker recall committee, Magney said. So, it would include "rehabilitated" signatures -- those that were put on a petition that contained a minor flaw and which the Democrats attempted to correct with an affidavit. Because no challenges were filed against any signatures, the GAB staff did not review the correcting affidavits.

As for mixing petitions, Magney said that approximately 200 signatures on Kleefisch recall petitions were mistakenly included with petitions seeking to recall Walker, and they would have been counted in the raw number of Walker signatures, but those signatures would have been later struck by the staff. About 95 Walker recall signatures were mistakenly included with Kleefisch petitions, he said.

Bottom line: Nothing Zielinski cited calls the board’s 931,042 count into question in any serious way. Conversely, he provided no evidence to show that more than 1 million signatures were submitted.

Our rating

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin claimed it submitted to the state elections board "over 1 million signatures" to recall Walker -- a claim that has been repeated and repeated. The board said just over 931,000 signatures were submitted. We rate the party’s statement False.

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Our Sources

Huffington Post, Mike Tate video, Jan. 17, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Democrats file 1 million signatures for Walker recall," Jan. 17, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Software for recall petition database needs human assistance," Jan. 21, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Just over 931,000 signatures submitted for Walker recall, GAB says," March 12, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Elections officials to ask judge to schedule all recalls on the same day," Jan. 16, 2012

Email interview, Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Graeme Zielinski, March 13, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel email interview, Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Graeme Zielinski, March 12, 2012

Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, recall petition update, March 12, 2012

Interview and email interview, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board public information officer Reid Magney, March 13, 2012

Democratic Party of Wisconsin, blog post citing 1 million signatures, Jan. 20, 2012

United Wisconsin, news release citing 1 million signatures, "Scott Walker recall campaign collects more than 1 million signatures," Jan. 17, 2012

USA Today, article quoting Graeme Zielinski saying more than 1 million signatures submitted, Jan. 18, 2012

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Democrats say more than 1 million signatures were submitted to recall GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

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