As soon as the Defense of Marriage and Family Again (DOMFA) campaign rolls up to the secretary of state's office in Salem carting referendum petitions—which they hope will have enough valid signatures to put two recently passed gay rights laws up for a public vote—teams of gay rights volunteers will mobilize.
One group, organized by Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), will be on hand "to monitor the signature verification process," explains BRO's Bryan Boyd. "We'll have people at the secretary of state's office looking over their shoulders, ensuring that the signatures are correct." If the volunteers spot any anomalies, "we'll bring it to their attention and make sure that they're not certified."
DOMFA needs to turn in 55,179 valid signatures by September 26 to put either issue—domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, and non-discrimination legislation—on the November 2008 ballot. Groups like Concerned Oregonians, a coalition of evangelical Christians, are currently mining the state for signatures, to assist DOMFA in the referendum effort [see Feature, pg. 14].
As soon as the secretary of state's office and BRO volunteers are done combing over the signatures, another group is poised to grab copies of the petitions, and log every name and address into a searchable database at knowthyneighbororegon.com.
The group—started by "a number of queer folks," explains spokesperson Jenn Stewart—is modeling their effort after a similar one in Massachusetts launched in 2005. There, knowthyneighbor.org published the names and addresses of roughly 120,000 people who signed a petition to ban gay marriage or civil unions—a move that stirred up plenty of controversy. Here, "a bunch of rabble-rousers in Portland decided to see what we could do in Oregon," Stewart says.
She explains why: "If people are willing to take a stand against rights of other people then they should be willing to stand behind their signatures," she says. "It's incredibly important that you know whenever you sign something, what you're signing and what they'll be using the information for, and if it's public domain." These petitions, she points out, are public info.
"Plus, there is a lot of petition fraud, and we're trying to monitor that," Stewart adds. If someone believes their name landed on a petition—and Know Thy Neighbor's site—erroneously, they can speak up. (In Massachusetts, people could send in an affidavit if they believed they were victims of petition fraud; PDFs of the affidavits are linked to names of those who filed them. Some of those who filed affidavits explained that a signature gatherer tricked them into signing the petition, while others simply say that they didn't know what they were signing.)
In addition to holding petition signers accountable, Stewart explains the underlying idea behind the project's name, Know Thy Neighbor. "To me, it's important as a queer woman to be able to look up people and see, are the people in my neighborhood on this petition? Are there people in my zip code on this?" she says. Finding out that people she knows—like friends or coworkers or even a boss or local business owner—signed the petition is valuable information, "if for no other reason than protection."
And discovering that gay rights activists "have to do more education or work" in a certain zip code, for example, can help with the campaign against the referendum.
"We've got our eyes forward going into this campaign, and everything we're doing is preparing for this," BRO's Boyd says, adding that he's glad knowthyneighbororegon.com is taking on such a daunting project. "We're not involved, but we do believe that petition fraud is a really big issue. We are more than happy to have this watchdog group assist in monitoring that."