More than 2000 voter signatures appeared illegitimately on the initiative petition to ban gay marriage, the gay rights organization MassEquality claimed today. It is to call on the Massachusetts Attorney General and Secretary of State to fully investigate the signature collection activities of VoteonMarriage, an offshoot of the Massachusetts Family Institute.

MassEquality says that its own investigations have uncovered more than 2000 voters whose signatures were collected through fraud, deception, forgery and trickery during the signature drive which ended Dec. 7, 2005. The petition needs just 50 votes of two consecutive constitutional conventions of the Legislature, the first scheduled for May 10. If successful, the petition would appear on the November 2008 ballot.

“We didn’t have a lot of resources and we didn’t have a lot of time,” said Marc Solomon, MassEquality’s campaign director. “But even our small sampling revealed thousands of voters who are shocked and outraged to find their name appears on this anti-gay, anti-family measure. If we were able, in our limited review, to identify this many people whose signatures were essentially stolen, we are quite sure there are tens of thousands more who we have not yet uncovered. That’s why we are asking for this investigation.”

In a letter to Secretary William Galvin, Mr Solomon asserts that VoteonMarriage hired a California signature-collecting firm that has been embroiled in controversy surrounding its tactics in Massachusetts and elsewhere. In addition, VoteonMarriage has in the past refused to divulge how much it has paid Arno Political Consulting and has repeatedly denied any wrong-doing, instead lashing out at critics who have raised questions or challenges.

“Clearly, 2,000 people can’t all be stupid, which is what petition organizers keep saying,” added Mr Solomon. “This process was flawed from the beginning, driven more by extreme politics than by the grassroots. We know we can’t stop the petition from advancing to the Legislature, but this is wrong, plain and simple.”

“That thousands of voters, including many of my constituents, were victims of deception in the signature gathering process further confirms that the Legislature needs to enact stiff penalties to deter misrepresentation and bait and switch fraud,” said Senator Ed Augustus (D-Worcester), Senate Chair of the Election Laws Committee.

“The Election Laws Committee’s oversight hearing and now this analysis have shined a bright light on a runaway petition process,” continued Augustus. “We can’t afford to turn a blind eye to fraud any longer – reform is the only way to protect voters and renew their faith in our system.”

MassEquality claim that VoteonMarriage used the following tactics to collect signatures:-

- Bait-and-switch: paid signature-gatherers asking unsuspecting voters to sign a petition to allow the sale of wine and beer in grocery stores, then asking them to sign the same petition a second time – as a “back-up copy” or for other reasons. In fact, voters were unknowingly signing the anti-gay petition. This was the most prevalent tactic.

- People knowing they signed the wine and beer petition but not knowing how or why their name was listed on the anti-gay petition.

- Paid collectors misrepresenting the anti-gay petition. Some voters even said they signed after having been told the petition was in favour of marriage equality.

- People who were listed on the anti-gay petition and who say they did not sign it or any other petition.

One signatory, Joe Amorosino, a director at the local television station, Channel 7 said his signature was a forgery and the address listed was one that he moved out of over two years ago.

“I was outraged to realise that my name had been used for such a cause,” said Mr Amorosino. “I am also thankful for all of those who have been tracking and challenging such fraud. Had I not been a visible name, this may not have been detected. It makes me wonder how much more of this may have gone on.”