A few voters from different parts of California complain that paid signature gatherers for a ballot measure to split the Golden State into six pieces lied to them, claiming the measure did the exact opposite of what it really does.
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper submitted signatures Tuesday to qualify his “Six Californias” measure for the November 16 ballot. Stories about this inspired several voters to reach out with strikingly similar tales of alleged fraud.
The company Draper paid to circulate his petitions has been accused of skullduggery in signature-gathering campaigns from coast to coast. That company’s owner said Tuesday these are the first complaints he has heard about this campaign, they’re insignificant in the context of about 1.3 million signatures gathered, and past allegations were trumped up by political foes.
Illijana Asara, 65, of Humboldt County, sent an email Tuesday detailing what she believed to be election fraud.
“Within the last two weeks, I was approached in front of the Dollar Store in Valley West shopping center in Arcata, CA, by a young man with a petition who suggested that if I signed the petition, I would be opposing the Attorney General of California’s intention to split the state into six states,” Asara wrote.
“I told him that I knew that there were people pushing this idea, but that it wasn’t the Attorney General and I didn’t sign the petition. As soon as I said that, he walked away,” she said. “There were lots of people signing, so it could be that a lot of people bought his line. I don’t know if this has happened elsewhere, but since there is so little support for this notion, it may have.”
Another Californian, who uses the Yahoo! name Xrich, recounted a similar story in a comment posted to a news story about the measure.
“I was approached by a campaigner at Walmart who tried to get me to sign the petition,” Xrich wrote. “The canvasser said the petition was to oppose the division of California but I read it and said the proposal was in support of dividing California. … I told him to stuff it, but I bet a lot of people signed it thinking they were opposing, not supporting the division of California.”
Deborah Hernandez, 40, of Orange County, said Tuesday that this is “exactly describing what happened to me.” She said she was outside a Target store in Aliso Viejo about a month ago when a signature-gatherer approached her with the same story about the Six Californias measure, and also misrepresented the content of another measure dealing with criminal penalties.
“I read them both … and I said to him, you’re completely misrepresenting what these things are about,” she said. “Then he proceeded to tell me I must not know how to read and understand these petitions correctly.”
She promptly informed him of her degree in literature from UC-Irvine: “I have excellent reading comprehension.”
“I got really mad, I got into it with him,” Hernandez said. “I told him, you can just stand out here lying to people.”
Indeed, California Elections Code 18600 says anyone who circulates a ballot-measure petition and “intentionally misrepresents or intentionally makes any false statement concerning the contents, purport or effect of the petition” when asking someone to sign is committing a misdemeanor.
Lots more, after the jump…
Voters can file complaints with the Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit – either by calling 800-345-VOTE, or by downloading a form and mailing or faxing it in – or with the local district attorney, said Shannan Velayas, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office. But such complaints are kept confidential, so Velayas couldn’t say whether similar complaints have been made about this particular measure.
The Secretary of State doesn’t have prosecutorial authority, but if there’s enough evidence of wrongdoing, it can refer its findings to the state attorney general or a local district attorney, Velayas said. That prosecutor then decides whether or not to press charges.
Six Californias hired Arno Political Consultants – a Carlsbard firm, founded in 1979 by Michael Arno, that has gathered signatures for scores of ballot measures and politicians all over the nation – to do its signature gathering. Campaign-finance reports show Arno was paid $1,317,913 in March; reports for the year’s second quarter haven’t been filed yet.
Arno said Tuesday that he hired more than 1,000 signature gatherers around the state to circulate Six California’s petitions. Told of the similar complaints from various locations, he replied, “That’s the first I’ve heard of it … I have no idea why that would happen. This has been one of the cleaner drives I can remember.”
While he said it’s possible that the allegations are true, “I can’t control all circulators, and I think it’s a very de minimis problem when you figure we collected 1.3 million signatures.”
Arno’s company has faced complaints like this before, many of which were documented in the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center’s 2007 report, “Abusing Direct Democracy: Bad Actors in the Signature Gathering Process.”
“Arno Consulting is known as one of the largest and most successful signature gathering firms in the country,” the report said. “Despite his impressive client list and years of experience, Arno is also known for something else: being accused of deception and illegalities in his signature gathering practices.”
The report detailed a litany of accusations against Arno and its subcontractors in various states. And in California, the center as well as then-Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres complained in 2007 of bait-and-switch tactics used to gather signatures for a Republican-backed measure to change how California allocates its Electoral College votes.
Arno said Tuesday that the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center is a liberal group funded by the Service Employees International Union and billionaire financier George Soros, which had a signature-gathering arm of its own and sought to tarnish his reputation because he worked on anti-labor measures, an anti-gay-marriage measure in Massachusetts and the Electoral College measure in California.