Fraud taints antigay measure
By John C. Bonifaz | December 22, 2005
ON TUESDAY, the secretary of the Commonwealth certified signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that will begin a process to place the question on the 2008 ballot. He did this despite significant documentation of fraud in the signature-gathering process.
Within days after the signature-gathering began for this ballot measure, allegations surfaced throughout the state that signature collectors were using bait-and-switch tactics to deceive people into signing the petitions. MassEquality, a coalition defending equal marriage rights for same-sex couples in Massachusetts, fielded numerous complaints of signature collectors who asked people to sign a petition to allow the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores, and instead collected the actual signatures on the antigay marriage form.
In the ballot initiative process, the secretary of the Commonwealth has the responsibility of certifying the validity of those signatures presented to him to ensure legitimate support for the proposed question. The secretary should not merely rubberstamp the signatures presented and pass this issue on to the Legislature, where the amendment only needs 25 percent approval of a constitutional convention in two successive legislation sessions in order to appear on the 2008 ballot.
Rather, the secretary should fight to protect the integrity of the process. The antigay marriage ballot measure should not move forward in the face of these serious allegations of fraud. It is the secretary's responsibility to conduct an investigation that should include a check on a random sampling of the names presented. Individuals should be contacted to determine whether their signatures were valid. If the results of that investigation confirm that signature collectors committed fraud, the measure should not be allowed to proceed to the ballot.
From the ratification of the Massachusetts Constitution to open town meetings, direct democracy -- participation of the people -- has deep roots in the history of this Commonwealth. But, in order to maintain the people's trust, the process must be safeguarded against fraud. If people begin not to trust the fairness and legitimacy of the electoral process, our democracy is threatened.
In response to the multiple complaints about the use of deceptive practices with the antigay marriage ballot measure, state Senator Edward Augustus and state Representative Anthony Petruccelli, the co-chairs of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Election Laws, have put forward a bill (S. 2251) to help rout out fraud in the gathering of signatures for ballot questions. This bill is a necessary first step to protect the process for the future.
In this case, however, we are dealing with a proposed ballot measure -- one that would deny basic equality to a great many couples in Massachusetts -- that remains under a cloud of impropriety.
As the state's chief elections officer, the secretary should have denied certification of this antigay measure until he had conducted a thorough investigation into these allegations. The public should be assured that our ballot initiative process is free of manipulation and deceit. At the present time, the evidence suggests it is not.
John C. Bonifaz is the founder of the National Voting Rights Institute and a Democratic candidate for Massachusetts secretary of state.