Thursday, 22 Oct 2020

A Cigarette for a Fake Signature? Election Fraud Charged on Los Angeles’ Skid Row

They are a familiar sight at farmers’ markets and public squares across California every election season: workers gathering signatures needed to place voter initiatives on the ballot.

Nine people have been charged with felony election fraud after they went to a different part of town to collect signatures: Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles district attorney announced on Friday that the nine had been charged with paying homeless people off — with one dollar bills and stray cigarettes — in exchange for signing fake names on petitions for the initiatives or on voter registration forms. (People who sign petitions are required to be registered voters.)

The petition gatherers were charged with a dozen felony counts after gathering hundreds of names in the 2016 and 2018 elections, prosecutors said. They face up to seven years in prison. The charges include circulating petitions with false names and registering a nonexistent person.

Voter initiatives are an integral part of California’s electoral system. Some of the state’s most influential laws — dealing with property taxes, water bonds and criminal penalties — were passed not by the Legislature but at the ballot box. Workers with clipboards begin popping up on street corners as the deadline approaches for filing petitions.

They are paid by the signature, typically about a dollar per name. But the fee can increase to as much as $8 when there are a lot of initiatives circulating, given the competition for workers. The number of signatures needed for an initiative to qualify for the ballot is based on the number of people who voted for governor in the last election; they generally require upward of 300,000 names.

There were 18 propositions on the ballot in 2016, and 16 in 2018. Some of the best-known ones this year would have expanded rent control and repealed a gas tax, but prosecutors declined to reveal which initiatives were involved in the fraud cases.

Prosecutors recommended that the nine workers be held on $25,000 bail.

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