Evaluating Petitions

From the Michigan Association of Retired School Personnel

Petitions can be used for positive or negative outcomes. But how do you know if the petition you are signing is positive or negative? With several petition drives being active right now, we wanted to underscore some points to consider when you are approached by a petitioner. 

1) Find out WHO initiated the petition

If it’s not a person or organization you already know and trust, you should try to look it up online or check with trusted sources and do some independent vetting on your own. Try doing an online search for the petitioner’s name in quotation marks (i.e., “Jane Doe”) with something that might help narrow down the search, such as the name of their organization or their hometown.

2) Be mindful of how it is PRESENTED

Don’t take any facts and figures cited at their word, especially if they feel like exaggerations or falsifications that you can easily check online. Use reliable news sources that can be factual, non-partisan sources to help you research anything that sounds confusing (or suspicious). 

3) Read the FINE print

Reading the fine print may not be a habit, but it’s particularly important to do when you’re lending your name to a petition. You need to clearly understand the petition’s specific ask and nothing should be confusing. If you don’t read everything, you run the risk of signing a petition that does not represent your viewpoint on the issue. Usually the petition will have a summary paragraph on it at the top, but keep in mind that there can also be supplemental pages with the full text explaining what you are signing.

4) Every petition will have a POSITIVE spin. That doesn’t make it positive.

Consider that a petition is not likely to be successful if it sounds negative. So EVERY petition is going to present the information in a positive way, even if you don’t actually agree with the outcomes. The creators of the petition will likely even use words that you care about. For example, you may value and support education. A petitioner can make it sound like what you are signing is good for education, but once you learn more about it, you may actually disagree with their actions.

5) Keep in mind, petitioners CAN lie.

The person asking you to sign the petition doesn’t necessarily have to be telling the truth. They can bend, distort, or withhold the truth about the outcomes of the petition. Their goal is to gain signatures. In some cases, they are compensated based on the number of signatures they collect.  

6) You CAN say NO.

When approached by a petitioner, especially in person, you can feel pressured to sign. They are probably saying positive things about a topic you care about. You CAN say no. At least until you learn more about the petition you are signing. If they don’t respect that you want to learn more about it before signing, that’s probably a red flag that they don’t want you to do independent research. If you find out later that you are actually in support of the initiative, you can always reach back out to them later to sign.

7) What does your GUT say?

The last check you should do is of critical importance: Pay attention to your instincts. If something feels off, it’s probably off — don’t sign it. 

We hope you find these considerations helpful if you or someone you know is approached about signing a petition. Stay connected with MARSP for helpful information and a trusted source.