Anti-Affirmative Action Petition In Question

Tuesday, February 12th 2008, 10:18 pm
By: News On 6

A controversial civil rights group crusading to end affirmative action has come under fire.  The group collected thousands of signatures to put the issue on Oklahoma's November ballot.  But opponents say they did it dishonestly and many of the signatures are questionable.  The News On 6's Ashli Sims reports the controversy could change the entire petition process.

Hundreds of duplicate signatures, more than 70 from one Tulsa address, even some of the people who circulated the petition signed it several times each.

Those are just some of the reasons why opponents say this petition should be thrown out.

Oklahoma could be heading for a civil rights showdown over civil rights.  At the center is a petition and a group called the Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative.

Ending discrimination is the sales pitch, but a closer look shows the state question would end racial and gender preferences in public employment, schools and public contracts.

To opponents, that means an end to affirmative action programs in the state.

State Representative Jabar Shumate told The News On 6 in a phone interview that many voters told him they were misled or tricked into signing the petition.

"I thought it was just wrong that people were portraying a petition or a bill are passing it off as something it was not," said Rep. Jabar Shumate, (D) Tulsa.

Now it's not the collecting, but the actual signatures stirring up controversy.

The petition is backed by a California group pushing similar measures in several states.

They need more than 130,000 names to get on Oklahoma's November ballot.

The Secretary of State's office spent 22 days counting two dozen boxes of signatures.  That's longer than usual because Secretary of State Susan Savage says there were so many problems.  But she approved more than 140,000 signatures.

In a letter to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Secretary Savage says the petitions were filled with duplicate signatures and addresses.

For example, Michael Jordan signed five times. 

Savage calls the number of doubles "unprecedented" and admits it's reasonable to assume her office didn't discover all of them.

Ninety-two signatures all listed some version of 415 Archer as an address.

There's only a warehouse at 415 East Archer.  And 415 West Archer, the address listed for more than 70 signatures, is the Day Center for the Homeless.

Every voter has a right to sign an initiative petition, but you do have to be a registered voter.

After investigation several people who signed up, shouldn't have.

The News On 6 checked 20 of the names listed at 415 West Archer. Not only are they not registered in Tulsa County, they're not registered anywhere in the state.

"The secretary of state does not, does not check to make sure that registered voters are on those petition pages," said Rep. Shumate.

Representative Shumate says the law doesn't give the Secretary of State the authority to verify registered voters.

Shumate has introduced new legislation to try to change that.

The Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative has not returned any calls.

For now, it's up to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, if the petition makes it on the ballot.