One of the weirder news stories related to animal rights is playing itself out in Massachusetts that pits supporters of horses against opponents of gay marriage in a conflict that highlights the problems with the petition signature industry.
Animal activists in Massachusetts campaigned under the name Save Our Horses to put a measure on the state ballot that would prohibit shipping horses out of that state to slaughterhouses in other states. Meanwhile, a group calling itself the Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage was simultaneously trying to drum up support for a ballot initiative that would ban gay marriage in Massachusetts.
Of course rather than obtain the signatures themselves, both groups hired a company, Ballot Access, to collect the 51,700 signatures for them. Save Our Horses spent about $160,000 to collect the signatures.
Initially Ballot Access told Save Our Horses that it had, in fact, collected that many signatures, but later it turned out that the company had only collected about 48,000 signatures. It had, however, collected 76,000 signatures for the anti-gay marriage initiative.
And here’s where the legal fun begins. It turns out that Ballot Access had been telling people they were signing the save the horses petition, but turned around and used those signatures for the anti-gay marriage initiative instead.
Save Our Horses coordinator Susan Wagner told the Boston Globe,
I started getting irate phone calls from people who were on the street who said that our petition was being used as bait to lure people to sign the other petition. People were being told they were signing the horse petition but they were really signing the marriage petition.
Bryan G. Rudnick, chairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage, told the Boston Globe that Wagner’s charges were not true and that most of the signatures collected for its initiative were collected by volunteers. “Susan Wagner is a paid consultant who screwed up and rather than take the blame herself, she’s blaming [the signature-gatherers],” Rudnick said.
Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, however, confirmed that he had received complaints in November 2001 of the bait and switch routine by Ballot Access, and had confirmed that in fact this was happening in a spot check of signature gatherers that he personally conducted.
Reilly’s office told the Globe that it was interested in any evidence that Ballot Access had committed fraud — which could make the company liable for criminal prosecution — but that the deadline for challenging signatures on the anti-gay marriage initiative had already passed.
Accusations swirl on petition tactics. Stephanie Ebbert, Boston Globe, January 9, 2002.