Green the Vote leaders inflated signature counts; still plans to deliver petitions
The Associated Press and The Tulsa World - August 8, 2018 11:14 am
Last week, the Tulsa World reported that Green the Vote had gathered the requisite number of signatures for State Question 797, legalizing recreational marijuana, to be placed on a ballot. But early Tuesday morning, the cannabis community on social media learned that 132,527 was an inflated number, that the drive was actually closer to 73,000-78,000 signatures.
“Nothing’s changing right now,” board member Joshua Lewelling told Green the Vote supporters early Tuesday. “We still need signatures. … We still need that last push.”
Sullivan and longtime Green the Vote leader Isaac Caviness had seen several petition drives fail over the past years as they and others tried to win a vote that would let Oklahomans decide on legalizing marijuana. So toward the beginning of the petition drive for signatures, when numbers appeared to be on the low side, Sullivan and Caviness agreed on a plan unbeknownst to the rest of the board.
They would release a signature count weekly, but the numbers would not be accurate. Instead, they would be for the purpose of keeping people in the movement motivated.
“I understand I have let you down,” Caviness said. “No matter what — if we have the signatures, if we don’t have the signatures — I have let you down, and I accept that.”
The community started buzzing with the news late Monday evening, when Sullivan appeared in a Facebook live video with board members Ashley Mullen-Lowry and Jamie Nall. Mullen-Lowry told Green the Vote’s Facebook followers: “You have all been lied to.”
Sullivan said in the video that she alone had counted the signatures for SQ 796 (for medical marijuana) and SQ 797, that she and Caviness were the only ones who knew that the group’s drive was, again, falling far short of the 124,000 signatures needed.
“He begged me and pleaded with me to trust him … that the movement would catch up to the numbers that he was giving. And it took awhile for my moral compass to find north,” Sullivan said.
Mullen-Lowry explained why they felt the need to make the video when they did.
“Our big concern is once this came out after the 8th, who was going to take the fall for this. Who was going to point fingers at who. …
“She’s not going down for this,” Mullen-Lowry said of Sullivan. “I will fight you. Just so you know.”
Caviness said in a Facebook live video response that he was hurt by many of the allegations made by the women in the video.
“Both of us had a crisis of conscience over it,” he said of the decision he and Sullivan made to “not lose momentum” by reporting low numbers.
Sullivan said she stepped down as a board member.
“It was not my intention to hurt the movement,” Caviness said in the video, in which he also offered to resign from Green the Vote. “It was not my intention to mislead anyone. It was my intention to inspire so that we could get this done.”
Lewelling stressed, in declining to accept Caviness’ resignation, that the priority was getting signatures collected and delivered Wednesday. “On Thursday, we’ll see what comes,” he said.
“I let you all down because I did not feel that I had the wherewithal to step up and say, ‘This is what’s happening.’ I didn’t think I would be believed,” she said. “I didn’t think that you would keep going, because there was a point where we could have caught up, where it was not so far out of the realm of possibility.”
But around July 29, Caviness said, Sullivan did a hard count. In the video, she says that number was 31,244. About 124,000 signatures are required.
“When she realized that the number was whatever she came up with the number being, she panicked, and she bailed on us, and she left Green the Vote high and dry,” Caviness said.
For each comment on the videos that expressed outrage, there was one that expressed support of either the women or Caviness.
It’s unclear what effect the news will have on the movement, as Green the Vote is set to take petitions to the Capitol on Wednesday. It’s still unlikely, even if the group has enough signatures, that the issue would appear on this year’s general election ballot.
Ron Durbin, attorney for Green the Vote in a lawsuit regarding the implementation of the state’s medical marijuana program, released a statement.
“I am saddened and deeply upset about what I learned tonight, but nothing should cancel out the work of hundreds of volunteers that devoted thousands of hours. I certainly won’t let it cancel out all the hard work me and my team have put into fighting for 788. That said, the case we filed in Oklahoma county will be evaluated to determine the best course moving forward. …
“Obviously I do not agree with decisions which resulted in the misrepresentation of the vote count. Both as a motivational tool and strategy, it makes no sense to me. However, I know Isaac’s character, and it is solid. The same is true for every single member of Green the Vote I’ve met through this process.
“It is obvious that people made very bad decisions, but I will not abandon 796 and 797 over what is no doubt an egregious error of judgment. People deserve to have the constitutional protections afforded in those two petitions, and my hope, albeit a glimmer, is that somehow this will turn into a story of miracles. We could all certainly use one.”