(WOMENSENEWS)–Massachusetts voters may have unwittingly signed a petition to ban gay marriage, thinking they were signing a petition to ban the slaughter of horses for food, the New York Times reported.

The Massachusetts Save Our Horses Campaign hired the firm Ballot Access Co. to collect signatures, hoping to put the issue on the state ballot this November. The Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage hired the same company to gather signatures to put a ban of gay marriage on the 2004 ballot. Organizers of the horse campaign accuse Ballot Access of pulling a bait-and-switch, the paper reported Sunday.

Horse campaign organizers say the signature collectors asked voters to sign a petition banning killing horses for food and showed them the cover sheet from that campaign, which featured an image of a horse and an American flag. But the signature sheet underneath was for the marriage ban, they allege.

James Lafferty, a spokesman for the gay-marriage amendment’s sponsors, Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage, said Ballot Access had denied the accusations.

Massachusetts voters began complaining in September shortly after the petition drives began. The state’s attorney general’s office said it has gotten some complaints from voters who “may have signed a petition they didn’t want to sign,” adding that authorities found some “irregularities” in the petitions.

The Save Our Horses campaign says Ballot Access was getting paid more per signature for the marriage initiative than for the horse petition, which provided a financial incentive to the company to switch petitions.

The horse campaign was 2,574 votes short of the 57,100 needed to make it onto the ballot. Organizers are now suing the Massachusetts Secretary of State to get their ballot measure on the November ticket. The marriage campaign got 76,607 signatures–more than enough to get it on the 2004 ballot.

For more information:

Bay Windows Online:

“Ballot question in jeopardy as signature-gatherer questioned”:

Also see Women’s Enews, October 10, 2000:
“Vermont Election Is Ground Zero in Cultural Wars”: