A probe by the Washington Elections Division has allegedly found more than 8,000 fraudulent signatures on I-517 and I-522, two initiatives that were recently validated by the state.
The Secretary of State's Office issued an announcement Wednesday saying the case will be handed over to the Washington State Patrol. Elections officials say they found 3,644 fraudulent signatures for I-517 and 4,483 for I-522—many containing names, addresses or signatures that did not match with voter registration records.
But even without the signatures in question, both measures still have more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. I-517 and I-522 were certified last month; the legislature must now decide whether to pass the measures as they are or send them to voters.
Initiative 522 would require any food sold in Washington state and made with genetically engineered crops to be labeled.
Tim Eyman's Initiative 517, the so-called initiative on initiatives, lengthens the amount of time signatures can be gathered from six to 12 months and broadens the legal definition of disorderly conduct to include interference or retaliation against a signature-gatherer. It also requires that all valid initiatives appear on the ballot.
Organizers behind both initiatives said they are glad the signatures in question are being investigated. The Secretary of State's Office has said three paid signature-gatherers—including one solicitor who worked on both initiative campaigns—are the focus of the probe.
“We absolutely applaud the Secretary of State for finding the forgeries, and we support absolute prosecution of the forgers,” said I-522 sponsor Chris McManus.
Eyman also is not skipping a beat because of the fraud investigation. Asked whether the incident points to a need for more volunteer signature gatherers, he said the extra signature gathering time given in I-517 would allow campaigns to rely less on paid workers—and perhaps prevent fraud in the future.
“There is a little irony in the situation,” Eyman said.
It is a Class C felony in Washington to commit petition fraud. The offense is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
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