Will signers think twice in future after recall petitions placed online?

MADISON -- Recall petitions targeting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and four Republican state senators are now available for public viewing online, and as a result, there is concern that the names listed on the recall petitions could be used by marketing companies and political parties.


A list of names and addresses like the recall petitions can be useful to a company trying to sell a product, and a person looking to harass. "What I'm concerned about is, you might have some of the more extremist supporters of Governor Walker start calling and contacting the people who have signed these petitions and really start grilling them like they're suspects and doing something wrong," UW-Milwaukee Professor of Governmental Affairs Mordecai Lee said. Lee says he's heard this is already happening in the Republican state senate recall effort.

The Government Accountability Board says last spring it got a number of complaints on the other side: Democratic incumbents facing recalls set up boiler rooms of phone banks calling those who signed to recall a senator.

What will that mean for recall petitions in the future? Political Consultant Chris Haworth says the online publication of petitions could even force a change in future petitions themselves. "I think it will give anyone who has a recall petition or any petition in front of them to sign their name, a moment of pause before they actually decide whether they'll put not only their name, printed and signed, but also where they live," Haworth said.

Haworth says he believes in the future, both sides of the political aisle may come together and make sure petition circulators let signers know they are signing a public document, and their address may be viewable to the public.

Lee says posting these petitions online is a 20th century concept of what a public document used to mean - something many haven't thought about, until now. This isn't the first time recall petitions have gone online, but it is the first statewide recall in which petitions have been made public this way.