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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

February 13, 2013 at 6:16 PM

Signature-gathering fraud found in state initiative campaigns

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s office says it has found fraud by three paid signature gatherers for two initiative campaigns.

An elections-division probe turned up thousands of apparently bogus signatures on petitions for Tim Eyman’s latest initiative, I-517, which deals with the initiative process, and for I-522, which seeks to label genetically engineered food, according to a news release from Wyman’s office.

Evidence of the fraud will be turned over to the Washington State Patrol for investigation and referral for possible prosecution, Wyman’s office said. Petition fraud is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The alleged fraud won’t stop the initiatives from being voted on. Both campaigns turned in far more than the 241,153 signatures required.

The three signature gatherers, who were not identified by Wyman’s office, turned in more than 8,000 signatures on petitions for the two initiatives. But routine checks by elections officials found many names, signatures and addresses on the petitions did not match voter records.

Wyman called the case the worst instance of initiative fraud elections officials could remember and suggested better regulation of paid-signature gatherers may be needed.

“This kind of disrespect of the voters and our cherished initiative process cannot be tolerated, and I want these cases fully investigated, and if, appropriate, as it certainly appears, I want these people prosecuted,” Wyman said in the news release. “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.”

Eyman rejected the idea that paid signature gathering is a problem and said initiative sponsors have no motive to pay for bogus or invalid signatures.

“We’re all happy these three people got caught and that they are going to be prosecuted,” Eyman said.

The campaign for I-522 did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Comments | More in Politics Northwest | Topics: Initiative 517, Initiative 522, signature-gathering

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