Paid signature gatherer accused of faking names

EVERETT — State elections officials noticed something fishy when they began reviewing signatures to place a referendum on gay marriage on the 2012 ballot.

The handwriting seemed remarkably similar on many of the petitions for Referendum 74.

They spotted a pattern that led back to one paid signature gatherer — Julie A. Klein, 54, of Marysville.

Her petitions — more than 50 in all — were separated from the stacks for a closer look.

Of the 1,001 signatures she submitted, 834 did not match the handwriting on file of registered voters. Just 101 appeared to be real. Her petitions were not counted and ultimately didn’t affect the referendum getting on the ballot.

The Secretary of State’s Office turned the petitions over to the Washington State Patrol for a criminal investigation.

Similar discrepancies turned up with signatures Klein filed in support of another 2012 ballot measure, Initiative 1185, which required a two-thirds majority for any tax increases approved by both houses of the Legislature. Earlier this year, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the initiative violated the state constitution, which requires only a simple majority vote by both houses of the Legislature to pass laws.

That time, Klein turned in 1,241 signatures. More than 770 didn’t match signatures on file, according to state records.

In late July, Snohomish County prosecutors filed felony charges against Klein, accusing her of falsely signing names onto the petitions. She pleaded not guilty in Snohomish Count Superior Court earlier this week.

Klein allegedly told a State Patrol detective that she was facing financial hardship and needed money “to keep the lights on.” She allegedly admitted finding names in the phone book. She also said it seemed a victimless crime, according to court records.

Shane Hamlin, assistant director for state elections, doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s vital that the public has trust and confidence in the process,” Hamlin said. “It breeds mistrust. It’s a very serious matter.”

A detective sent out samples to people whose signatures appeared on the petitions and asked if they were accurate. In the case of the gay marriage referendum, 65 of the 67 people returning the letter to the State Patrol said the signature submitted in their name was not theirs. Samples from the tax initiative resulted in a similar response.

It’s not the first time state elections officials have become suspicious about the authenticity of signatures handed their way.

Eight of 19 initiatives or referenda submitted for verification between July 2008 and January 2013 contained irregularities that were turned over to the State Patrol.

Over that span, 19 people have been investigated for petition forgery or fraud. Among those, two were convicted of felonies.

Elections officials try to impress upon the companies hired to gather signatures “to take ownership of the people they have out in the field,” said Dave Ammons, a spokesman for the state Secretary of State’s office.

In Klein’s case, a detective learned that a subcontractor didn’t give the Marysville woman instructions on how to gather signatures because he assumed she had done it before. He did recall that she complained at one point about not getting many signatures and that he spent an afternoon with her to show her how to get more, according to court papers.

In the case of R-74, the subcontractor explained that he was getting paid $1.10 for each signature. He would take a 10-cent cut and his employees were earning $1 for each signature they gathered.

In the case of I-1185, he told a detective he was getting $1.40 per signature. He would take a 40-cent cut and turn over $1 per signature.

The Legislature has long feared paying someone based on the number of signatures gathered is an incentive for fraud, but a state law banning that practice was struck down in the 1990s.

Nine paid signature gatherers were under investigation for questionable signatures turned in to put Initiative 1240 to allow public charter schools. Two other initiatives, one dealing with the initiative and referendum process and the other with food labeling, were turned over to the State Patrol in February because of questionable signatures provided by paid gatherers.

Getting to the truth has been elusive.

Bob Calkins, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, said some investigations have run into dead-ends.

“Not only were the signatures fraudulent, but the identifying information about the signature gatherer was fraudulent and we were never able to run that down to an individual person,” he said. “So those other cases we were unable to take forward for prosecution.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

These little piggies stay home

Norman, who was spotted last week in Everett, is part of a trio kept as pets by the “pig whisperer.”

Cheering families welcome Kidd, Shoup after 6 months at sea

“I get back Daddy back today,” said one homemade sign at Naval Station Everett.

Stanwood man, 33, killed in crash near Marysville

Speed may have been a factor, the sheriff’s department said.

Street-legal ATVs approved for some roads near Sultan

Supporters foresee tourism benefits. Opponents are concerned about injury and pollution risks.

Jamie Copeland is a senior at Cedar Park Christian Schools’ Mountlake Terrace campus. She is a basketball player, ASB president, cheerleader and, of course, a Lion. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Cedar Park Christian senior stepping up to new challenges

Jamie Copeland’s academics include STEM studies, leadership, ASB activities, honor society.

Woman, 47, found dead in Marysville jail cell

She’d been in custody about four days after being arrested on warrants, police said.

County plans to sue to recoup costs from ballot drop-box law

A quarter-million dollars could be spent adding 19 ballot boxes in rural areas.

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Merger would make Providence part of health care behemoth

Providence St. Joseph Health and Ascension Health are said to be talking. Swedish would also be affected.

5 teens in custody in drug-robbery shooting death

They range in age from 15 to 17. One allegedly fatally shot a 54-year-old mother, whose son was wounded.

Most Read