Referendum sponsors say opponents are interfering with petitions

Sponsors of a referendum to repeal a tax cut on oil companies allege that opponents are interfering with their ability to collect signatures.

Pat Lavin is one of the organizers behind the referendum. He says the harassment started in Anchorage last week and escalated on Monday, when an unidentified woman interrupted the signature gathering effort at the Barnes and Noble.

“This was physically putting her hands on people signing books to kind of get their attention and basically say, “Don’t do this. That’s a bad idea. You don’t want to sign that.”

The practice is called blocking, and the intent is to make it harder not just for a petition circulator to get an individual signature but to control a high-traffic space. Lavin says that because the incident upset customers, petition circulators were asked to cut their day short. He says he’s worried the same people could target them again.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an army, but you know a few persistent harassers can really — as we saw at the Barnes and Noble — shut things down.”

With less than a month to go, the referendum group has to collect over

30,000 signatures to get on the ballot. At last count, they were above 20,000.

Because interfering with constitutional rights is a misdemeanor, referendum organizers have requested a meeting with Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew.

Management at Barnes and Noble was not able to answer questions about the incident.

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