Politics & Government

State Patrol to probe I-1163 signature fraud

Backers of an initiative to improve home care and worker training say they have discovered fraud in petitions turned over to a California-based subcontractor that was paid to gather signatures for Initiative 1163.

Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office put out a statement this morning confirming that the case has been given to the Washington State Patrol for investigation. The numbers of faulty signatures could be in the hundreds.

Backers of I-1163, which is sponsored by Service Employees International Union Healthcare 775 Northwest, alerted Reed’s staff to the allegations. The campaign said none of the suspected fraudulent petitions had been turned in earlier this month at the signature turn-in deadline for the Nov. 8 ballot.

The state elections office was still verifying a sample of signatures this morning for Tim Eyman’s I-1125, and it did not expect to begin checking I-1163 signatures until Monday, according to Kay Ramsay, a Reed staffer overseeing the signature verification work in space rented from the Thurston County auditor’s elections shop in Tumwater.

I stopped by the election shop this morning to check on the signature checks, and Ramsay said they were just over half-way done checking a 3 percent sample of the 328,632 signatures Eyman turned in for his highway tolls measure. Ramsay said crews were expected to begin verifying signatures on I-1163 late next week, likely finishing that work the week of Aug. 2.

Reed spokesman David Ammons put out this statement this morning:

The state Elections Division has requested the Washington State Patrol to investigate a number of Initiative 1163 petition signatures that appear to be fraudulent. None of the signatures were included in the estimated 340,000 signatures submitted to the Secretary of State on July 8, and the signature-gathering company self-reported the problem.

Initiative 1163 spokesperson Sandeep Kaushik told our office that I-1163’s signature-gathering firm, PCI, realized that it had a number of signatures that they suspected to be fraudulent. The California-based PCI sent the questionable signatures to our Elections Division, which has reviewed them, finding that most of the signatures did not match the signature on file, or were names of voters not found on the voter rolls.

The matter has been turned over to the Washington State Patrol, which has agreed to investigate. The actual number, reaching into the hundreds, will not be released during the investigation, nor will the name of the signature-gatherer or the questionable petitions themselves. This is standard practice during a law-enforcement investigation, which could lead to prosecution. The signatures were mostly collected in Snohomish, King and Island counties, according to the Elections Division.

Secretary of State Reed noted that the I-1163 campaign and their signature-gathering company self-reported the fraudulent signatures to our Elections Division and are acting in good faith. The questionable signatures were never submitted by the campaign as part of their July submission, he underscored.

“We appreciate their efforts,” Reed said. “I know we all want our initiative process to be clean, and we rely on campaigns and their signature-gathering operation to take great care in submitting only valid petitions. The public values our initiative process and the voters want a system they can trust. We appreciate the patrol taking a good, hard look at this situation. This state has a zero tolerance policy for initiative fraud.”

“An independent contractor hired by the signature gathering firm PCI Consultants, Inc. to collect signatures for multiple Initiatives, including I-1163, appears to have tried to submit fraudulent signatures on several I-1163 petitions. As a result of its rigorous quality control measures, PCI Consultants self-identified and removed these potentially fraudulent petitions from the pool prior to signatures being submitted and immediately took steps to contact the Secretary of State’s office to report their suspicions of suspected fraud. None of the petition sheets in question were included in the more than 340,000 signatures turned to the Secretary of State to qualify I-1163 for the November ballot.

“We thank Secretary of State Sam Reed for pointing out in a statement he issued a few minutes ago that we ‘self-reported the fraudulent signatures to our Elections Division and are acting in good faith.’

“At no point did the I-1163 campaign either receive or pay for the petitions in question, and the person suspected of committing the fraud was a subcontractor hired by the signature gathering firm and has no affiliation with either the campaign or SEIU Healthcare 775NW, which supports I-1163. All of the suspect petition sheets have been forwarded to the Elections Office for their consideration.

“The Yes on I-1163 campaign takes very seriously the integrity of the signature gathering process. We have zero tolerance for fraud or unethical behavior intended to cheat the democratic process. It is unfortunate that one bad actor in an otherwise successful signature gathering effort apparently tried to submit fake signatures to the 1163 campaign. We thank PCI Consultants for their diligence in preventing these potentially fraudulent petitions from being submitted. And we thank the dozens of other signature gatherers, both volunteer and paid, for their honest hard work to collect over 340,000 signatures in support of restoring common sense protections for our seniors and people with disabilities.”

An SEIU signature gatherer was convicted and sentenced earlier this year for signature fraud related to the I-1098 income tax campaign in 2010.

All three measures in the running for the fall ballot used paid signature gatherers to qualify, including the Costco-backed I-1183 which proposes to privatize the state-run liquor sales and distribution operations. Signatures for I-1183 were being counted today, and validity checks of signatures could begin Monday, according to Ramsay.

UPDATE on original 10:49 a.m. post: Eyman got back to me with a comment about the new fraud allegation. He wrote:

For years, SEIU has led the charge in Olympia for anti-initiative laws that'll 'clean up' the system -- but in 13 years and 13,778,244 signatures, the Secretary of State's office has had zero instances of verified forgeries or fraud EXCEPT from the SEIU -- one of their volunteers last year and now their paid petitioners this year. Maybe if SEIU spent more of its time policing itself rather than pushing anti-initiative bills, we'd all be better off.

UPDATE 2: Kristina Logsdon, Ballot Initiative Network project director for the Win/Win Network, sent me a message pointing out that Eyman is wrong about SEIU being the only offender. In fact, there was a signature fraud case involving a Spokane mother and daughter and one of Eyman’s own initiatives, I-985, in 2008.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review reported on that fraud and efforts by Logsdon and others to bring more scrutiny to paid signature gatherers last year, including bills that would have required paid-gatherers to register with the state Public Disclosure Commission and also would have required picture identification.

Logsdon wrote today:

“In true Eyman style, truths are distorted. Eyman selectively ignores history of signature fraud on one of his own initiatives. As noted a mother and daughter team was accused of forging signatures on [Initiative] 985, an Eyman sponsored initiative. The mother, Teresa Dedeaux, has since plead guilty and in exchange, charges on her daughter were dropped. Both were contracted by Citizen Solutions.

In addition, Eyman also falsely claims SEIU lead the effort for "anti-initiative" laws when in fact it was a large coalition comprising of nearly 40 groups led by the Ballot Initiative Network, a project of Win/Win Network. Coalition members including the AARP, League of Women Voters, and Lutheran Public Policy Office supported efforts to reform the ballot initiative process to bring about greater transparency, accountability and oversight to our initiative process. Last year, the coalition introduced legislation that would require all signature gatherers sign a declaration confirming signatures are gathered in accordance with state law.