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Wyman: Zero-tolerance for petition fraud

by David Ammons | August 13th, 2014

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Secretary Wyman, whose office oversees “direct democracy” through ballot measures, says she’s gratified that a jail term has been ordered for a Snohomish County woman who was convicted of initiative fraud.

The jail term, believed to be the first such sentence for this type of fraud, underscores that Washington has “zero tolerance” for petition fraud, Secretary Wyman said.

The six-month jail/work-release sentence was imposed by Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris on Julie Klein, 54, Marysville, The Herald of Everett reported.

Wyman was pleased that the Class C Felony matter was taken seriously by law enforcement and the criminal justice system:

“The initiative process is a constitutional right of the people, and for the past 100 years, sponsors from across the political spectrum have been using this `direct democracy’ to write laws or vote on policies the Legislature has just passed. We are absolutely committed to keeping the process clean and reliable. Public trust and confidence must be maintained by those who use this process.

“Petition fraud is rare when compared with the millions of signatures that are submitted over the years, but we can and will remain vigilant. We have a zero-tolerance policy for fraud.”

The latest case originated with the Secretary of State’s Elections Divisions during signature-verification checks two years ago. Petition checkers noticed that petitions sheets submitted by the same paid-solicitor, Klein, had many signatures that didn’t look right, many of them seeming to be in the same hand-writing.

Klein worked for opponents of Washington’s newly passed gay-marriage law who wanted to challenge it via a public vote on Referendum 74.  Her petition sheets were segregated for further scrutiny and were not considered as the R-74 petition proceeded. It appeared that of the 1,001 names she submitted, 834 did not match the handwriting on file for a person by that name. Others did were not found on the voter rolls.

More faked signatures were submitted on behalf of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1185, which would require a two-thirds approval of both houses of the Legislature to pass taxes in Olympia. More than 770 of the 1,241 Klein-gathered signatures did not match voter signatures on file.

Signature-gatherers were earning about $1 per name submitted, The Herald reported.

Both measures qualified for the ballot without her petition sheets, and both gay-marriage and I-1185 passed the voters in the fall of 2012. The supermajority requirement was later overturned by the state Supreme Court.

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More background: The Election Division’s research was turned over to the State Patrol, which agreed to investigate. In both cases, nearly all of the dozens of examples investigated by the patrol turned out to be bogus. From there, the case was referred to the prosecuting attorney in the county where Klein operated. She later pleaded guilty and asked for a sentence of community service. The Herald reported that the judge decided for a tougher sentence, actual jail time. The Herald said the judge decried the “lack of moral integrity” that led the woman to forge signatures, adding that she was “appalled” at this violation of the initiative process. “These rights are sacred.”

Eight of 19 ballots measures submitted between July 2008 and January 2013 contained irregularities that were turned over to the State Patrol, the division said. Over that period, 19 people have been investigated for petition forgery or fraud. Among those, two were convicted of felonies.

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