How much does it cost buy a fraudulent voter signature in LA?
Not a lot, according to the LAPD -- just a dollar and a smoke.
Three men were arrested on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles Saturday — while allegedly paying homeless people with cash and cigarettes — to falsify names and signatures on official campaign petitions, police said.
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The men had been observed engaging in suspicious interactions with people on sidewalks Sixth and San Julian streets last week, but it was only after consultation with state elections officials that the arrests were made during an undercover operation days later, carried out by police assigned to the Central Division.
"This is voter fraud, which we talk about, and we know it exists, but it isn't exactly something that patrol officers deal with," said LAPD Detective Meghan Aguilar, a department spokeswoman.
She said the men were asking people on the street to sign several different political forms.
"They were petitions, and so they'd have them sign that petition as a fictitious person and they'd receive minimal compensation for that signature," Aguilar said.
Thousands of dollars in cash and lists of LA County registered voters were booked into evidence, police said. Other law enforcement officials said the men were carrying signature-gathering paperwork to qualify at least four measures for upcoming elections.
Those included an LA County effort to reduce jail time and expand oversight of the Sheriff's Department. They also had statewide measures to reduce the number of felons considered non-violent, increase income tax on millionaires and property tax on business owners, and a local effort in Long Beach to improve safety for some hotel workers.
None of the authors or supporters of those measures were suspected of involvement in the signature fraud. The case was presented to the LA County District Attorney's Office public integrity division on Tuesday but no charges were filed.
Prosecutors have asked police to do more investigative work and the three men have been released from jail. The LA County Registrar-Recorder's Office said it had not been notified by law enforcement about the arrests or the initiatives involved, but said in a statement Wednesday there would be ample opportunity for elections officials to detect any forgeries.
"When our office receives a petition it is our responsibility to ensure the signatures provided are valid. To ensure validity, every signature that is submitted for local and county petitions are cross-referenced with the registered voter’s signature on the voter file," the statement said. "If a signature does not match what is on the voter file we will flag the signature and it will not be counted."
Paid signature gathering companies, that can charge $2 or more per signature depending on the political campaign, said they often contract with multiple companies, that in turn hire or contract with temporary workers to circulate the petitions.
They said a small percentage of signatures submitted later turn out to be false or forged but it was nearly impossible to identify those responsible. In addition to the men who allegedly offered money for forged signatures another man and woman were arrested on suspicion of signing petitions using false names, booking records showed.