If you're bored with snooping through Match.com for photos of your coworkers and fully caught up on the neighbors' property values thanks to Zillow.com, just be patient. A new source of cyber-dishing is on the way in Oregon, and other states might not be far behind.
It's KnowThyNeighborOregon.com – a small band of Oregonians who are mad as hell that some folks are trying to erase the Oregon Family Fairness Act and the Oregon Equality Act, signed into law this year. (The first creates domestic partnerships for same-sex couples; the second makes it illegal to fire, deny housing, or refuse various services to a person solely because of sexual orientation.)
Opponents of those laws, including a group called Defense of Marriage, are gathering signatures to force both measures back on the statewide ballot in November. The Oregonian's Bill Graves reports that signature-seekers say they're "disconnected, frustrated and uncertain whether they can muster enough voter names to qualify for the statewide ballot." The gatherers need 56,179 signatures on each of Initiative petitions 303 and 304.
If they get enough, off go the petitions to the Oregon Secretary of State. There they are verified through a random-testing method.
If too few signatures survive, end of story. But if enough pass muster to put the measures on the ballot, KnowThyNeighborOregon volunteers plan to quickly photocopy the petitions and type like mad, entering them all into a database to be published on their Web site. (Yes, that petition you signed at the mall last week is a disclosable public record.) So whoever signs one or both of petitions 303 and 304, presumably because they are against gay rights, is identifiable through a quick database search.
The Oregon effort is not the first such outing of petition signers. KnowThyNeighbor.org is a national coalition, and the database they created will be used by Oregon volunteers when they sit down to type in those zillions of names. KnowThyNeighbor exists in Florida and Massachusetts, where signatures from past elections are posted, along with blogs and ongoing news watches. Says Brandon Berg, a 20-something Portland event planner and spokesman for the Oregon group: "This really is a grassroots effort. It grew out of a group of us talking this summer about what happened in the Legislature with the passage of these measures, and the response by Restore America and others who challenge domestic partnerships, as well as the very basic protections of laws like the Oregon Equality Act. Some of us were active in lobbying for these two pieces of Legislation, and some of our volunteers have been involved in trying to get these rights here for the better part of 30 years ... . We needed to do something." KnowThyNeighborOregon's primary goal, stated on its recently launched Web site: "Supporting the democratic process by providing the public with direct access to information that they are entitled to see and that is very relevant to this somewhat controversial topic. ... KnowThyNeighborOregon.com hopes to inspire respectful, civil, and honest community discourse and discourages with its fullest conviction the actions by anyone to harm a person or their property in retribution for exercising their democratic right to sign the petition."
But what if there's a mistake and the wrong people are outed? Suppose one of those buck-for-a-name petition scams happens again, or simple human error means your name and address are mistakenly put up on KnowThyNeighborOregon's site? You're supposed to then report it to KnowThyNeighbor's volunteers, who will remove it and contact the Secretary of State about the error. No one knows how many errors are likely or if the correction mechanism will work. Even if the fixes do work and contribute to a more accurate record, that may be small comfort once your name and address are hung out there erroneously in cyberspace, where info has a shelf-life roughly equivalent to canned vegetables.
Here's the best outcome: Too few signatures are collected and KnowThyNeighbor goes back to being three words that comprise good advice. Berg, even as he's preparing to type until he drops if necessary, sounds an optimistic note: "The majority of Oregonians are fair-minded people. If they have an opportunity to stop and think and really look at these measures, they'll ask themselves 'Would I want my family to lose these rights?' and of course they wouldn't."