Affirmative Action Battle Brewing

Wednesday, February 20th 2008, 10:46 pm

By: News On 6

There's a brewing ballot battle over affirmative action.  Thousands of Oklahomans signed-on to an effort to end affirmative action in the state.  Opponents say some of them were misled and other signatures are out-right fraud.  News On 6's Ashli Sims reports now they're taking the battle to court.

Petition supporters are waiting on their day in court, the Oklahoma Supreme Court.  The justices will decide if the petition makes it on the ballot.  But, opponents say the court fight is just beginning.

Thousands lent their name to this initiative petition, but some say they had no idea what they were really signing.

"There was voter fraud from start to finish," said attorney Shanta Driver.

The Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative is an arm of the American Civil Rights Institute, started by Ward Connerly.  Connerly was behind California's push to end affirmative action.   His Oklahoma group gathered thousands of signatures.  Opponents claim some folks who signed the petition were misled by circulators.

"And I said, 'What is it about?" And she said, 'Oh, it's to protect civil rights and to protect people from discrimination. And I said, 'Oh, it's right up my alley,'" said David Bernstein with the Jewish Federation of Tulsa.

The petition does say it's against discrimination, but it also says it would end preferences for racial minorities and women.  Bernstein says he asked for more information.

"She said I don't have any information here and I said, 'all right let's get to the car. And we'll sign it.' And I signed it and my wife signed it. And, I'll regret it as long as I live," added David Bernstein with the Jewish Federation of Tulsa.

And, Bernstein wasn't the only one who says he wasn't clear on what he was signing.

"A person that I knew, a person that we had even been in business together approached me and said, 'I'm circulating this petition and this will be real good for the community," said Pleas Thompson with the Tulsa NAACP.

Pleas Thompson is the president of the local chapter of the NAACP.  He admits he didn't read the petition, but he's joining dozens who want to fight it.

"The language of the petition was misleading and confusing," said attorney Shanta Driver.

Shanta Driver and George Washington fought a similar petition effort in Michigan by Ward Connerly and they pledge to do the same here.

"We kept Ward Connerly off the ballot by legal procedures in 2004 in Michigan. Everybody said it couldn't be done. We did it. He didn't get his vote," said attorney George Washington.

The Oklahoma Secretary of State certified the signatures, even though she says there were an unprecedented number of duplicates.  Opponents say that's one of the reasons this petition should be thrown out.  Calls to the Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative and the national group have not been returned.


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