Election officials in Washington state said late last week they had identified approximately 1,000 fraudulent signatures submitted on petitions seeking a ballot referendum to overturn the state’s new marriage equality law.
The fraudulent signatures were discovered on 48 disputed petitions, all linked to a single paid signature gatherer working on behalf of the “Preserve Marriage Washington” campaign, according to the Seattle Times.
The secretary of state’s office is now conducting the process of verifying a 3 percent random sample of the 247,331 signatures turned in last week for Referendum 74.
Preserve Marriage and its national partner, the National Organization for Marriage, turned in 247,331 signatures on more than 17,000 petition sheets to the Elections Division Wednesday, hoping to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
It was the highest number of signatures for a referendum in the state and represents twice the minimum of 120,577 names needed.
The woman behind the suspected fraud was working for a signature-gathering company hired by the campaign and apparently used the names of real registered voters from state voting records, but then forged their signatures.
The questionable signatures caught the attention of election staff because of a similar pattern in the handwriting and other red flags, said Katie Blinn, state co-director of elections.
But as long as 120,577 valid voter signatures are provided, the marriage equality law will remain on hold until the November election.
Blinn told the Seattle Times that elections division staffers will review all 996 allegedly fraudulent signatures, and turn those findings over to the State Patrol for an investigation. Forgery of signatures on ballot petitions is a felony in Washington state, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Organizers with Washington United for Marriage, the group seeking to preserve the law, said Saturday the suspected fraud is not surprising given what they say have been NOM‘s questionable tactics in other states.