Do we want to watch the Horror Channel, land a Trader Joe’s or bring back public hanging?

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Josh Christie did not get far with his petition to revive abnormal psychology at the University of Maine at Farmington despite its enthusiastic preamble:

“In addition to psychology being a worthwhile field of study, Josh Christie should be allowed to take this class because he is the friggin’ sweetest dude in the whole world.”

Ellen Lamb loves high-end grocer Trader Joe’s – “They’ll sell you a tub of wasabi peas or black bean-flavored corn chips” – but it’s not in Maine.

She started a petition to lure them. No reaction from corporate yet.

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Cyndy Dalton’s virtual petition will get delivered to Gov. John Baldacci next month. She really wants him to support Barack Obama for president.

A crop of Web sites like PetitionOnline.com and GoPetition.com have made it easy to champion causes and rally e-troops – for free, from the comfort of your keyboard. Of the thousands of national and worldwide petitions out there right now, more than 20 are directed at Mainers.

“I just think it’s a cool concept,” said Dalton, from Alna, just outside Wiscasset. The nurse and busy mom also has petitions directed at Tom Allen and Mike Michaud. “My time is really limited, that’s what I like about it. … It’s a medium that’s just in its real baby steps of possibilities.”

Whether they get results is hard to say. One New Gloucester man started an e-drive to ask Time Warner to add the Horror Channel to its cable lineup. Ninety-one people signed, leaving names, hometowns and comments like “Horror! Yeah.”

Time Warner spokesman Pete DeWitt hadn’t heard about it.

“Customer feedback is a huge component in determining what we do,” he said. However: “I don’t think we have officially been served a petition from the horror community.”

Sarah Standiford, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, tried an online petition for the first time this spring to rally support for a bill in the Legislature on sick days.

“It really exceeded our expectations,” she said.

Staff then contacted petition signers, took down their personal stories and even got some signers to testify for the bill in committee.

“It was definitely a way to get people to take the next step,” Standiford said.

The only thing that irked her: Some signers were routed to a page asking for donations to iPetitions.com. She didn’t know that would happen and it may keep MWL from using it again.

Lamb, from Gardiner, started her petition two years ago, shortly after moving to Maine.

“There isn’t a lot I miss about Los Angeles but I miss Trader Joe’s,” she said. “It’s high quality stuff and it’s very reasonably priced.”

A friend suggested PetitionOnline.com “to see who would rally around the idea.” She sent the link out to friends, who sent it to friends, and got 360 names.

“I don’t know that Trader Joe’s ever paid it any attention,” she said. “We sent them the link and we never heard back from them.”

Virtual or not, the key to effectiveness may lie in delivery, said Karl Trautman, chair of the Social Sciences Department at Central Maine Community College.

It’s easy to ignore an e-mail or lose it in the shuffle, he said. Turned into a media event – “We would like to present the governor this petition and why” – it’ll have more impact.

He said signing a petition in person takes more effort from both the canvasser and signee, but those people might sign something they’re less than familiar with to get on their way. People signing online have to pick that page and that topic; it may indicate support is more deliberate.

“It’s kind of a tool in keeping with the way society is going,” Trautman said. “Some people will dismiss it, (saying) ‘Any crank with an idea can put it out.'”

But that wouldn’t be fair, he said. It allows for an exchange of ideas, any idea, and it’s empowering.

“If someone wants to bring back hanging” – as floated by a group that cryptically calls itself Special Forces Securities Intl. – “let them start a petition. They probably won’t get many signatures,” Trautman said. “It makes anything a little more chaotic. That’s OK. That’s democracy.”

Stacey Collins launched her e-petition this month. It’s to allow pet chickens in South Portland backyards; she called it Give Peeps a Chance.

She didn’t know about the existence of online petitions until a friend suggested the tactic. She brought 90 e-signatures, plus 170 collected in person, to a city council workshop last week.

“They kind of glanced at it, but no one said, ‘Oh yeah, bring me a copy of that,'” she said

Christie, at UMF, got all of two signatures on his petition. However, the college did offer two classes of abnormal psychology, Psych 209, that fall. It’s also offering it this coming fall.

A college spokeswoman said she didn’t have any information on whether the petition from one sweet dude made a difference.

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