A petitioner who state elections officials discovered had submitted thousands of fraudulent signatures last year for Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1185 and for Referendum 74 (the unsuccessful ballot measure to overturn marriage equality) is being prosecuted by Snohomish County for committing a felony, court records show.
The Herald of Everett reported today that Julie A. Klein, fifty-four, of Marysville, was charged in late July with falsely signing petitions for I‑1185 and R‑74 thousands of times, allegedly with names that she found in the phone book. (That’s apparently what she told Washington State Patrol detectives).
Klein has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
If convicted, she could be sentenced to up to five years in prison — or fined $10,000. Alternatively, she could be sentenced to prison and fined.
The Klein case is just the latest instance of signature fraud uncovered in Washington State, and further proof that, contrary to what initiative profiteer Tim Eyman has claimed, signature fraud does exist and it is a problem that needs to be dealt with.
For years, Eyman has insisted to reporters and state lawmakers that there is no need for oversight of the initiative process because signature fraud just doesn’t happen in Washington. Two and a half years ago, in a February 28th, 2011 email to the press and to elected leaders decrying Senate Bill 5297, he depicted the state’s underground signature gathering industry as having a squeaky clean reputation:
We’ve written about this repeatedly this year: over the past 12 years, 12.7 million signatures have been turned in to the Secretary of State, and in all that time, there’s been 1 problem with 1 SEIU official last year.
In reality, Washington State’s signature gathering industry has a history of operating outside of the law, and Eyman and his associates know it.
At the time Eyman sent the email excerpted above, there was actually another case of documented signature fraud — a case Eyman was well aware of.
That case concerned fraudulent signatures that had been collected (but not submitted) for one of Eyman’s own initiatives — I‑985 in 2008.
Likely Eyman didn’t mention it because it would have undermined the narrative he was trying to sell to reporters. One case of signature fraud can be called an isolated incident, but two is twice as many as one and begins to indicate a trend.
And in the years since, more instances of fraud have been discovered. Stein’s fraud was discovered last year, and early this year, an unprecedented number of fraudulent signatures were discovered during the random sample checks conducted on Tim Eyman’s I‑517 and the initiative to require the labeling of genetically modified foods, I‑522. (NPI opposes I‑517 and supports I‑522).
Eight of 19 initiatives or referenda submitted for verification between July 2008 and January 2013 contained irregularities that were turned over to the State Patrol.
Over that span, 19 people have been investigated for petition forgery or fraud. Among those, two were convicted of felonies.
That these fraudulent signatures are being discovered is especially significant considering that the Secretary of State does not usually check all of the signatures that are submitted for any given initiative or referendum.
When a petition drive ends and petitions are turned in, elections officials do a count to see how many signatures there are. If the total number submitted reasonably exceeds the minimum required, elections officials perform what’s called a random sample check. If the measure passes the random sample check, it goes on the ballot or before the Legislature, as the case may be.
Not inspecting every signature certainly saves money, but it also means that signature fraud may go undetected, as we’ve pointed out in response to Eyman’s false and misleading statements. (In other states, including Oregon, there have been many documented cases of signature fraud, and the notion that it can’t happen here because we’re on the northern side of the Columbia is ridiculous).
Even if Eyman had amended his email to say “two known problems” it would still have been misleading. Signature checkers always find duplicate and invalid signatures when they check signatures on petitions, because they’re so common. They don’t always find fraudulent signatures because fraud is less common. But again, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
Innocuous invalid signatures are unquestionably problematic — they just don’t rise to the level of fraud, which merits a criminal investigation. If submitted petitions didn’t contain significant numbers of problematic signatures, there’d be no need for sponsors to submit a cushion consisting of thousands of extra, valid signatures.
The fact that elections officials keep uncovering fraudulent signatures on petitions means that signature gathering companies like Citizen Solutions (Eddie Agazarm and Roy Ruffino’s outfit) are not consistently catching the bad actors on their own — which is something they’ve claimed they’re capable of doing.
That’s just one reason why our state’s underground signature gathering industry needs to be subjected to stronger oversight and enforcement.
There are other reasons.
Many paid petitioners come in from out of state to work on campaigns in Washington, and most do not bother to register with the Department of Revenue or the Department of Labor & Industries. The petitioning firms that bring them in do not bother to comply with Washington’s worker protection laws.
That puts the petitioners themselves at risk, and it also makes it difficult for authorities to track down lawbreakers, as a WSP detective told The Herald:
Bob Calkins, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, said some investigations have run into dead-ends.
“Not only were the signatures fraudulent, but the identifying information about the signature gatherer was fraudulent and we were never able to run that down to an individual person,” he said. “So those other cases we were unable to take forward for prosecution.”
Several years ago, we urged the Department of Labor & Industries to start looking at these companies. After we did, L&I ended up conducting an audit of Eyman’s associates at Citizen Solutions, and fined them more than $8,000 for labor law violations. Following the completion of the audit, Eyman’s associates changed Citizen Solutions’ address and reincarnated the firm as a new entity — a limited liability company. Information we’ve received about their activities leads us to conclude they are still flagrantly operating outside of the law.
They know they are and they don’t care.
For too long, firms like Citizen Solutions have been exploiting not only voters, but the workers they hire to carry petitions on behalf of powerful interests, including Tim Eyman and his wealthy benefactors. This exploitation needs to end.
It is time for us to clean up Washington’s signature gathering industry so we can safeguard the spirit and the integrity of our state’s initiative process. In the weeks and months to come, we’ll be working with other concerned Washingtonians and state lawmakers to shine a spotlight on the industry and strengthen oversight of it.