Walker recall petitions now posted online

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Gov. Scott Walker

MADISON — The Government Accountability Board finished scanning petitions in the effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Friday, and promised to post those petitions online on Monday, and then decided to hold off on posting those petitions online – citing privacy concerns. Now, the GAB has posted those petitions for public viewing online.

RECALL PETITIONS CAN BE VIEWED VIA THE GAB’S WEBSITE BY CLICKING HERE.

The GAB issued the following statement around 5:20 Tuesday evening: “In the interest of full transparency, the Board has always planned to release copies of recall petitions to anyone who requested them, and to post them online. However, we recently heard from a number of people who are concerned about their personal safety, if their names and addresses are made public. As a result, our staff had to do an analysis under Wisconsin’s Public Records Law. These are serious issues which must be given thorough consideration and addressed in light of the Statues and the responsibilities of the Board.”

The Walker recall petitions were posted online, and all 153,355 PDF pages are available, though the petitions are not searchable.

Kevin Kennedy, director of the GAB said: “Few processes in the electoral system or elsewhere are more public than the signing of recall petitions against state elected officials. Petition signers chose to participate in the public process of initiating a recall election of the Governor, as well as other officeholders, and any concerns regarding their personal safety and privacy may not have been considered when signing a petition.”

Recall petitions targeting four Republican state senators were posted online last week, and the petitions in the Walker recall effort have been delivered to the Walker campaign for analysis.

Some who work with victims of domestic violence say several people expressed concern that their names and addresses would be made public after these petitions were posted online. Some even brought their concerns directly to the GAB. The Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which originally brought forward the concerns, says they are confident the conflict between privacy and the public's right to know, can be worked out.

In the day of the internet and instant information, the question became, should everything on a public document be fair game to anyone who cares to look? Some said whatever the GAB decided in this case, would set a precedent for the future.

Signing a recall petition does not end with a signature on a piece of paper. Many are struggling with the idea that the petitions be put online, showing names and addresses to anyone with internet access. Feelings are mixed on this issue - some saying the petitions should be available online, and others saying they disagree. Stephanie Holly says she doesn't necessarily have a problem with people knowing how she stands on the issue. She has a problem with people knowing where she lives. "There could be backlash. There could always be repercussions, so I don't think names and addresses should be public," Holly said.

The big problem in posting these petitions online is that a handful of domestic violence and stalking victims have come forward to local domestic violence agencies, concerned that online lists could put them in danger. "We know stalkers and abusers will utilize any new information they can get, and victims have taken extraordinary steps to having unlisted phone numbers. They are in real danger, and it's important, as the state moves forward, that danger isn't exacerbated," Tony Gibart with the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence said.

The Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence believes there is a simple solution: the GAB can take off the addresses of those who are concerned. "The GAB is considering the consequences of any action it takes, and that's a good thing," Gibart said.

The GAB has said the Walker recall petition database is not searchable. However, there are some who remain concerned in a domestic violence situation, someone with a vendetta and a lot of time can still find the address of someone they're looking for.

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One domestic abuse victim spoke up Tuesday night after the Walker recall petitions were posted online. "I just thought it was going to the GAB when I signed it. I have this guy who's stalked me after he attacked me awhile back. I don't want him to have my address, because he said he'd come and kill me," the woman said.

This woman says if she would've known her name and address would be made public when the petitions were posted online, she would've thought twice about signing. FOX6 was with the woman at the moment the GAB made the decision to post the petitions online Tuesday, and she said she's shaken to her very core. "I'm about to cry, and I'm just scared," the woman said.

The GAB spent the day Tuesday weighing the concerns of victims like the woman FOX6 spoke with, after initially planning on posting the petitions online Monday. Wisconsin's Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen even weighed in on the issue Tuesday. "We believe that these are records that, generally speaking, are public. What gets disclosed and what may be redacted and not disclosed is going to be largely up to the reason of the GAB," Van Hollen said.

Outside groups who want to scrutinize the signatures also had something to say about how the GAB handled this whole situation from the beginning. "They could have even warned people - if you have these sort of concerns, please realize your name and address is going to be part of a public document," a spokesperson with the MacIver Institute said.

The GAB's petitions are in a non-searchable database, but a number of third-party groups say they plan on using an army of volunteers to create searchable lists. The woman FOX6 spoke with Tuesday says this makes her fear for her life. "My safety is at great risk with this, and like I said, I don't think I'm going to sleep very well tonight," the woman said.