Was the GAB justified in petitions delaying the release of recall ? It's hard to see how.
Let's start with some recent case law. In an 8-1 decision, the United States Supreme Court recently held that persons who sign petitions to place an initiative on the ballot have no privacy interest against public disclosure of the petitions. Doe v. Reed, 561 U.S. __ (2010)
Reed involved a federal constitutional challenge to Washington state law compelling disclosure. The GAB, should it decide to withhold signatures, would presumably rely on Wisconsin law (which the Reed case, of course, does not address) which does permit personal identifying information in public records to be withheld "if the the public interest in allowing a person to inspect, copy or receive a copy of such identifying information outweighs the harm done to the public interest by providing such access. " Sec. 19. 36(8)(b)
Reed is instructive on this issue, holding that there can be no privacy interest when people have committed what is essentially a legislative act. This increases the public interest in learning their identity (so that the validity of the legislative act can be verified) and the reasonableness of any expectation of privacy (because signatories know - or should know - that they have undertaken an act that must be publicly verified.)
The same reasoning applies to the "balancing exemption" referred to above which must, in any event, be applied in light of the open records law's strong presumption in favor of disclosure. See sec. 19.31 ("The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied.")
I do have some sympathy for the argument that state laws compelling disclosure may need to be constitutionally curtailed when they facilitate harassment and retaliation. But the idea that people who want to recall Governor (who constantly tell us they embody the will of the "people of Wisconsin") will be subject to harassment or retaliation to an extent that defeats the public interest in open verification of the recall is ridiculous.
Concern has also been expressed about the potential threat to victims of domestic abuse whose address will now become public. Perhaps that might justify a short delay to mask the identifying information of those few individual although, in the internet age, the likelihood that anyone's address is truly private is small. In any event, this would not seem to be a sufficiently strong interest to keep one million signatures seeking recall of the state's highest elected official from public scrutiny.
Update: Bill Christofferson suggests that there is a difference between open records and online records and that's true. He is wrong, however, to suggest that this makes an open records request for these petitions a non issue. The GAB has presumbably scanned these petitions into a searchable electronic data base. That is now a "record" subject to production under the open records law. They don't have to put them on line. They do have to produce them as they have them.