Thursday, February 14, 2013

State explores potential fraud by paid signature gatherers

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 11:48 AM

click to enlarge siggathercrop.jpg

The Washington State Secretary of State's office is looking into possible initiative fraud from paid signature gatherers supporting two recent initiatives: Tim Eyman's I-517, which would strengthen the penalties for interfering with signature gathering efforts and extend the time to gather signatures and I-522, which would require labeling of genetically engineered foods.

But that won't affect how much you'll be hearing about those efforts. Both had plenty of valid signatures, and will be heard in the state legislature and then potentially passed on to a public vote in November. (I-517 was heard this morning in the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee and I-522 went before the Senate Governmental Operations Committee.) 

The Washington Elections Division says three paid signature gatherers collected more than 8,000 signatures for the two initiatives. When checked, most of them weren't valid.

"I’m sure that sponsors of ballot measures demand that their solicitors be accurate and honest, but we’ve always feared that use of pay-per-signature encourages bad behavior," Secretary of State Kim Wyman said in an announcement about the fraud.

The office has dealt with the issue before, even as recently as 2011. Here's a release about questionable signatures for I-1163 in 2011 (a measure strengthening training and background checks for long-term care workers), and one from 2010's I-1098, which would have raised taxes on top earners. Secretary of State spokesman Brian Zylstra says he's waiting to hear back from prosecutors and police about what happened in those cases. (We wrote about the sticky issue of paid signature gatherers back in 2010.)

The state turns cases like this over to state patrol officers, who may investigate and refer for prosecution. Petition fraud is a felony that carries up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, according to the Secretary of State.

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