A state Elections Division investigation has found apparent initiative fraud involving three paid signature-gatherers for two initiatives to the Legislature.
The two initiatives — Tim Eyman's I-517 proposal for extending the timeframe for the initiative process, and I-522, a proposal on genetically engineered food — were recently certified for consideration by the Legislature.
Officials from the Elections Division said the three signature-gatherers submitted more than 8,000 signatures with names, signatures and addresses that didn’t match those on file.
Eyman's I-517 initiative had 3,644 problematic signatures, and I-522 had 4,483 faulty signatures.
Officials said the results of the probe will be turned over to the Washington State Patrol for investigation and possible referral for prosecution. Officials also noted that petition fraud is a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
The cases involve the worst apparent initiative fraud anyone can remember, Secretary of State Kim Wyman said Wednesday. She said the state’s crackdown will continue, possibly with tougher regulations.
“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.
“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," she said.
Wyman also said the courts have ruled that the state cannot ban paid signature gathering, due to free-speech rights.
The state has found bogus signatures being turned in for initiatives in the past, but Wyman said that those were fairly small in number.
"Now we have cases involving hundreds or thousands of signatures and once they are adjudicated, we will be able to show hard evidence and documentation that we sometimes get fraud and forgery," she said.
Signature checkers in the Elections Division recently spotted the problem during a review of thousands of petition sheets submitted by sponsors of the two initiatives. The problem petitions did not jeopardize the initiatives being certified, since both campaigns had submitted far more than the minimum number required to send the proposals to the Legislature.
The probe found that one solicitor for I-517 was responsible for sheets bearing 599 signatures, many not valid. A check of each signature showed about 53 percent were valid, but the rest were invalid, state officials said, and many had signatures that didn’t match the one on file for the voter by that name and address.
A second I-517 solicitor had an even worse batch. Of more than 3,000 signatures, less than 5 percent were valid.
The same solicitor also turned in apparently fraudulent signatures for I-522, with only 4 percent of the 2,371 signatures found to be valid.
A second I-522 signature-gatherer was even worse, with less than 2 percent of the 2,112 signatures accepted as valid, state officials said.
State Elections Director Lori Augino said her office may be recommending tougher state laws and regulations.
Elections workers will meet with their counterparts in Oregon to discuss their system and solutions, Augino said.