Perhaps Marvin Gaye said it best in “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” when he crooned: “People say believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear.”

Gaye was — essentially — espousing that a healthy dose of skepticism and cynicism is necessary when being presented with significant information. His tune was dealing with revelations of infidelity, but his lyrics could easily apply to every one of us, when being presented with a petition to sign.

There are often complaints about the tactics of petitioners — they’re too aggressive, pushy or potty-mouthed, for example. Sometimes, there are claims of outright lies, such as what’s happening now during the vigorous signature campaign to secure a people’s veto of gay marriage.

Last week, we heard concerns from people that petitioners were using unsavory tactics to persuade potential signatories, including telling people their opposing gay marriage petition was, in fact, a petition to support its passage. If true, this strategy is about as unethical and disreputable as it gets.

And it’s nothing new. Allegations were rampant during the signature campaign for last year’s people’s veto on Dirigo Health beverage taxes that petitioners concocted all kinds of tales to sway voters, such as the tax extended to almost every thirst-quencher, including bottled water.

One particular petitioner in downtown Lewiston was even caught on video by pro-health care activists making that bottled water claim. What was the recourse? Well, nothing. There’s little an authority can do to make people speak truthfully when slinging a petition. The First Amendment gets in the way.

This is no excuse, of course. A Constitutional protection to free speech is no rationale for peddling bald-faced lies to get people to sign your paperwork.

It’s possible these complaints result from the commoditization of signatures; paid gatherers have turned this populist tradition into a lucrative profession. Professional signature-gatherers have even become partners in a petitioner’s endeavor. In the Oxford County casino, for example, pro-gatherer Stavros Mendros earned a piece of the casino by collecting the signatures to get it on the ballot.

This is small potatoes, though, considering a California public relations firm, fresh from repealing gay marriage in that state, has been retained for this fight in Maine. The people’s business became big business a long time ago.

Where does this leave the average Maine voter, who is the target of all the spin, hype and prevarication? In a precarious position, admittedly, but with the ultimate power. Read everything before you sign it, become informed about the issues and feel free, if you feel uncomfortable, to take a pass.

Nobody can make you sign. But if you do, know what you’re signing and don’t depend on the person holding out the clipboard and pen to tell you. This policy could be called “caveat signor.”

Pass it along, through the grapevine.

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