Hundreds of thousands of people have signed online petitions encouraging the secession of every state in the union since President Barack Obama was re-elected earlier this month.
The catch: They’re signing petitions on Obama’s own “We the People” petition website, which most constitutional experts agree probably isn’t the best way to start the secession process.
“You cannot secede from the union,” said John Green of the University of Akron. “That’s what the Civil War was about.”
But that hasn’t stopped more than 22,000 people from signing three petitions regarding Ohio seceding from the union. Nor has it stopped 111,639 from signing a petition to withdraw Texas from the union. In all, every state has at least one petition to secede on the White House website, with some states having two or three. As of Friday afternoon, more than 839,000 total had signed petitions to secede.
Before you take these petitions too seriously, consider this: The site also includes a petition to “have the President to attend a Fark.com party. If scheduling does not permit,” the petition states, “at least have a beer with Drew Curtis” — founder of Fark, a news aggregating website. That petition had 1,012 supporters as of Friday.
More than 1,000 people signed a petition to “allow United States Military service members to place their hands in their pockets.” A petition to ban the circumcision of males under the age of 18 drew 615 signatures.
There are more serious issues on the site — a handful of petitions deal with legalizing marijuana, which is relevant in the aftermath of ballot issues in Washington and Colorado. And there are pleas for justice, including one begging the White House to intercede in the death of a baby girl.
When the White House initially created the site last fall — aimed at engaging citizens — officials initially promised to respond to all petitions with more than 5,000 signatures. Later, they raised the threshold to 25,000.
As of Friday, seven states have met that marker on the secession petition: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas. Ohio, with three petitions splitting the vote, still falls short.
Green said that the petitions are “an expression of people’s discontent,” which is part of the point of the White House website.
Added Dan Tokaji, an election law expert at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University: “The best I can say is it may provide a way for people to discharge some of their anger and frustration after an election result that they disagree with.”
Columbus businessman John Cavanaugh used the site, but not to rail about the election. Last fall, Cavanaugh posted a petition asking the Obama administration to reconsider its decision not to send a retired space shuttle to Dayton. He wanted the White House to “revisit its decision on the retired Space Shuttle Enterprise and award it to National Museum of the USAF in OH.”
He got enough signatures for a response, but it came from the deputy communications staff member for NASA.
Cavanaugh believes the “We the People” petition process is an innovative idea aimed at engaging the public, but he said White House officials — and not cabinet agencies — should be the ones responding.
“If complaints about specific agencies are routinely shifted back to the very bureaucracy that created the problem, then it does become an exercise in futility,” he said.