• WisPolitics

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

 5:55 PM 

Kennedy stresses GAB’s role as referee

Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy told an audience at a Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon today that the current political season is supported by the letter ‘R.’

“Its been a long time since I’ve had kids watching Sesame Street, but I can tell you that this political season is brought to you by the letter ‘R’,“ Kennedy said. “That would be ‘R’ for recall, recount, redistricting, requirements for voter identification, reducing the hours for absentee voting, and writing your name on the polls.”

He could have added referee, for his own agency’s role in the process. Kennedy talked about how the board seeks to gain credibility through transparency and making people aware of its decisions.

“When you’re caught in the middle, when your job is to be the referee, you’re not going to win a lot of fans except through your performance over a period of time.”

Kennedy credited the state’s non-partisan model with giving the board credibility compared to other states where elections are handled by partisan election officials.

“Without that non-partisan tradition, what credibility would I have?” he said.

Kennedy’s appearance came amid complaints from conservatives over the agency's plans for handling fictitious signatures on recall petitions. Kennedy said the GAB's job is to flag things on recall petitions that don’t appear to be true. But, he added, "we’re not going behind the signatures.”

“Our agency is supposed to do a facial examination with the presumption of what you see in front of you is true, so we flag things that don’t look true,” Kennedy said

He also stressed the role recall circulators play in removing duplicate or fictitious names.

“If they’re doing their job -- and I will grant you that not everyone is as diligent as you would expect -- they’re signing a statement saying, 'I personally obtained these and I know who signed this signature,'" Kennedy said. "So they’re probably going to take care of, first of all, a lot of the fictitious names.”

“If we get a petition that has seven Disney characters on it, or the Dallas Cowboys, or famous quarterbacks in the NFL,” Kennedy said. “We’re going to be focusing on the circulator and how they have lied and violated the law."

But Kennedy also acknowledged that some will always try to cheat and said that things such as the new voter ID law can increase public confidence in the system.

“We’re seeing that its not really happening,” Kennedy said. “But if the public thinks it can happen, then I think that’s a good basis for addressing it.”

Kennedy said he didn’t think lawsuits over the voter ID law would be resolved by the primaries in February for spring elections, adding that it would take the courts to put the measure on hold.

He also said that with potential recall elections, two rounds of spring elections, and another primary in August, his agency will be able to prepare for having the law in place for the higher turnout in the November presidential election.

Kennedy also told the audience that the GAB’s role is to help people “cut through some of the bureaucracy.” He said he has a two-sided flow chart on how to get a driver's license.

“I think our challenge is, really, how do we get to that last group of people, to ensure that they have that opportunity?” Kennedy said.

He recalled an instance where he was observing at a polling station and a man came up to him asking for help sorting through documents the man had so that he could vote.

“What he did is, everything that connected him to society was in a sock, and he dumped it out in front of him and said, ‘Is there any thing here that I can use?’”

Kennedy called it "a very powerful experience" that he said would surprise many people.

“They don’t recognize that there are many people in society that are going to need that extra help.”

-- By Arthur Thomas, for WisPolitics.com


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