by David Ammons | March 4th, 2011
Secretary of State Sam Reed says King County Superior Court Judge Mariane Spearman has sentenced Claudia Renea McKinney for initiative signature fraud.
Reed, the state’s chief elections officer, said he was pleased with the felony conviction Friday and it sends a clear signal that the state has a “zero tolerance policy for initiative fraud.”
McKinney’s attorney and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office agreed that she would plead guilty and be allowed to do 160 hours of community service in lieu of 20 days of jail time, and pay the Secretary of State’s Office restitution, plus other court costs. The judge signed that order Friday afternoon. McKinney expressed remorse and apologized.
McKinney worked for the Service Employee International Union to gather signatures on behalf of Initiative 1098, last year’s unsuccessful measure to implement a state income tax on high-wage earners, reduce state property taxes and make other tax changes. Signature-checkers at the state Elections Division spotted 20 petition sheets signed on the back by McKinney with 349 names, some that seemed questionable. Some appeared to be in the same handwriting or weren’t registered voters.
The McKinney signatures were never included in the signature-check for I-1098, which easily qualified for the November ballot. Voters rejected it soundly.
Reed has described this as the worst case of attempted signature fraud in modern times. At his request, the Washington State Patrol investigated, and confirmed that many of the signatures they checked out were indeed false. With Reed’s support, the patrol forwarded the matter to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s office, and they decided to prosecute.
The crime of one count of “signature violation by a signer” is an unranked felony, with a standard range of zero to 12 months in jail and a maximum of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The punishment meted out by the judge today was for 20 days in jail, converted to service time at 20 hours per month, restitution of $1,890 to the Elections Division for the investigation, plus court costs.
Secretary Reed’s comment:
“We are glad the case was taken very seriously by the State Patrol, the Prosecutor and the court system. We are pleased the case was investigated and then prosecuted. This was a felony conviction. We want everyone to know that we have a zero-tolerance policy for initiative fraud in this state.
“The people of Washington have used and cherished the initiative and referendum process for almost a hundred years now, and they deserve and expect a clean and trustworthy process that is free of signature fraud. We will always be vigilant to any attempts to subvert this process.
“The number of bad signatures was just a small percentage of the total submitted to us for checking, but it did represent an attack on the process, which relies greatly on the integrity of the people who circulate the petitions.”
The state Legislature is currently mulling bills dealing with initiative signature-checkers, including Senate Bill 5297.