Dody Sullivan and Isaac Caviness, board leaders of Green the Vote, a marijuana advocacy group, had watched hopelessly as several of their petition drives failed over the years, as they and others attempted to give Oklahomans a chance to decide on their own to legalize weed or not. Therefore, they hatched a new strategy to fake the numbers for a chance at success.
Last week, news headlines reported that Green the Vote had collected sufficient signatures to place State Question 797, which would legalize pot recreationally, on the ballot. However, early on Tuesday morning, the marijuana community learnt on social media that the widely reported 132,527 signatures was an inflated number, and that, in actuality, the drive only garnered around 78,000 names.
“I have been working 24 hours a day to bring in those signatures to try to make up for it so that I would not be letting you down, and I understand that I have let you down,” Caviness explained. “No matter what, if we have the signatures or if we do not have the signatures, I have let you down and I accept that.” In effect, the group lied to the world and is now apologizing for it.
In the weeks following Oklahomans approval of State Question 788, which legalized marijuana for medical use, Green the Vote noticed interest in the issue increasing. Toward the start of the drive to gather signatures, when numbers seemed on the low side, Caviness and Sullivan agreed on a strategy without the rest of the board’s knowledge or consent.
They decided to release signature counts weekly, but not with accurate numbers. The purpose of this was to motivate people within the movement. The news spread quickly through the community, after Sullivan appeared in a live Facebook video on Monday night, along with board members Jamie Nall and Ashley Mullin-Lowry, telling the group’s followers that, “You have all been lied to.”
In the video, Sullivan claimed to be the only one who counted the signatures for State Question 796, the one for medical weed, and State Question 797, and that she and Caviness alone knew that the group’s drive was again falling short of the 124,000 signatures required for the ballot. Mullen-Lowry made it very clear why the group felt the need to make the video public when it 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?” Of Sullivan, Mullen-Lowry said, “She is not going down for this. I will fight you, just so you know.” In response, during another live Facebook video, Caviness said that the allegations made by the women in the video had hurt him.
“Both of us had a crisis of conscience over it,” Caviness said of the choice that he and Sullivan had made to “not lose momentum” by reporting low numbers. Subsequently, Sullivan stepped down as board member for Green the Vote. “It was not my intention to hurt the movement,” Caviness explained in the video, in which he also offered to resign.
“It was not my intention to mislead anyone,” he stated. “It was my intention to inspire so that we could get this done.” According to Sullivan, she had confessed to the lie because she “made the mistake of trusting somebody who is not trustworthy.” Whether this boldfaced misleading of the public on such a contentious issue will harm the movement is anybody’s guess.
“I let you all down because I did not feel that I had the wherewithal to step up and say ‘This is what is happening.’” Sullivan explained. “I did not think I would be believed. I did not 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.”
However, around July 29, Caviness said that Sullivan did a hard count. To get an issue on the ballot, the law requires a minimum of 124,000 signatures, but in the video, Sullivan says that the number was just 31,244. Caviness says that, “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.”
Many people commented on the video. For each of them expressing outrage, there was somebody supporting either Caviness or the women. It is unclear at this point what effect the news will have on the movement as a whole, as Green the Vote is due on Wednesday to take petitions to the Capitol. However, it seems very unlikely now, even if there are enough signatures, for the issue to appear on this year’s general election ballot.
Ron Durbin, attorney for Green the Vote in a lawsuit over the implementation of the state’s medical weed program, had his say, “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 will not 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.”
On the issue of ‘the lie,’ Durbin said, “Obviously I do not agree with decisions which resulted in the misrepresentation of the vote count. Both as a motivational tool and as 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 have met through the process.”
Durbin continued with, “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 judgement. 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.”