The signature-verification check for Referendum 74 is underway, and the state Elections Division has asked the Washington State Patrol to investigate apparent fraud by one of the paid signature-gatherers. The questioned petition sheets have been set aside and will not affect the signature-check for R-74, which is widely expected to qualify for the fall ballot.
R-74 gives voters a chance to approve or reject the state’s newly passed law that allows civil marriage for same-sex couples.
Before getting started with their 3 percent random sample test on Sunday, Election Division crews found about 50 petition sheets that appear to be fraudulent. The approximately 1,000 signatures were mostly names of legitimate registered voters, but the signatures did not match the one on file. The petition sheets were circulated by the same individual, apparently a paid signature solicitor.
Katie Blinn, co-director of the Elections Division, quickly asked Patrol Chief John Batiste to conduct a full review of the questionable signatures and then take appropriate action. In previous cases, the patrol has investigated and then turned the information over to a county prosecutor.
Initiative/referendum petition fraud is a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and/or up to a $10,000 fine.
“We take initiative fraud very seriously,” said Secretary of State Sam Reed. “The initiative and referendum process is a constitutional right granted the voters of Washington and we are rigorous in protecting it.”
Sponsors estimated that about 25,000 of their 247,331 signatures came from paid signature solicitors.
Blinn and Shane Hamlin, state elections co-directors, said the questioned signatures were segregated from the other petitions and do not taint the remainder. The state Elections Division is checking a sample of 7,420 signatures.
On Sunday, 1,248 were scrutinized. Most, 1,130, were accepted. The rest were rejected because the person is not registered to vote or because the signature did not match.
FAQs and stats from check so far: http://tinyurl.com/8yd9o6h