Officials suspect fraud in initiative signatures

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Associated Press

Posted on February 14, 2013 at 2:02 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 14 at 2:05 PM

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Three paid signature gatherers apparently committed extensive fraud while collecting support for two Washington initiatives, elections officials said Wednesday.

The secretary of state's office said many of the 8,000 signatures submitted by the collectors were invalid. The problematic filings were linked to a measure that would extend the time for initiative signature collection, and another proposal that would require companies to label genetically modified food.

Both initiatives are still valid because the remaining signatures were sufficient to get the measures certified, election officials said.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman said the cases involve Washington's worst apparent initiative fraud in recent history.

"This kind of disrespect of the voters and our cherished initiative process cannot be tolerated, and I want these cases fully investigated and, if appropriate, as it certainly appears, I want these people prosecuted," Wyman said in a statement.

The secretary of state's office declined to name the signature gatherers but is turning over its findings to the Washington State Patrol for investigation. Officials spotted the problems during their review of thousands of petition sheets submitted by the initiative sponsors.

One of the solicitors who collected support for both campaigns submitted more than 5,000 signatures, with only about 4 to 5 percent of them being valid.

Paid signature gathering has become a common part of Washington's initiative process. Wyman said the secretary of state's office has always feared that the pay-per-signature method encourages bad behavior.

"The good news is that we do have rigorous fraud-check procedures and law enforcement that takes this seriously," Wyman said.

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