California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's Election Fraud Unit has just announced that felony charges have been filed against a Sacramento woman who appears to have forged the names of five voters while gathering signatures for a 2006 ballot initiative.
The initiative was sponsored by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which hired the woman to gather signatures for a petition to get the initiative onto the ballot. She earned 75 cents per signature, netting her a total of $3.75 from the allegedly fraudulent signatures, according to the press release just sent to The BRAD BLOG by the SoS's office. (Complete press release posted at end of article.)
The signatures were excluded before the initiative qualified for the ballot, which eventually passed during the June 2006 election.
So why all the effort and resources expended to bring felony charges for such a paltry sum, for an election that's already over, particularly when the signatures weren't even used?
The reason, as we see it, is two-fold. And there are lessons to be learned from both explanations. And not just in California where powerful GOP operatives are hoping to gain enough signatures to put an Electoral College busting measure on the June 2008 ballot in desperate and cynical hopes of splitting the Golden State's electoral vote on a proportional basis in order to game the 2008 Presidential Election.
The new Secretary of State of Ohio would do well to take away the important lesson, once again from her sister in Sacramento...
For the first reason why Bowen's announcement is important, we defer to her statement in the press press release where she declares, "We cannot allow the integrity of the initiative process or the integrity of the electoral process to be undermined." Huzzah.
Secondly, Bowen's efforts are notable in sending a message that gaming of the electoral system, no matter how slight, or even moot, will not be tolerated. By taking this action --- felony charges are no small matter --- concerning something as minor as a $3.75 cent scam, one which didn't actually effect the 2006 ballot measure directly (unless the scam was wider spread than we now know), the Secretary is sending a clear message that such shenanigans will not be tolerated in 2008 under her administration. Huzzah again. Message to CA Bad Guys: You're on notice.
We point this out as Ohio's newly elected Democratic Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, who came in with big guns as the new sheriff in town a few months ago, seems to have lost her way of late. At least in regard to finding accountability for the massive election fraud that took place all across the Buckeye State during the 2004 Presidential Election.
Her attempts at looking forward to the 2008 Election, and her planned review of voting systems and procedures (finally said to be underway after several compromises were made to appease Republicans who had to approve the expenditure) are all well and good.
But the tireless Election Integrity advocates in Ohio --- who have spent years gathering evidence of fraud in the state, at their own expense, only to try and see some justice done --- have been told recently by Brunner's office that she's "looking forward" rather than back, and seems prepared to let the extraordinary crimes of former SoS J. Kenneth Blackwell and his democracy-hating GOP cohorts just slide.
The message sent in Ohio, then: You can mess with elections and get away with it.
That's not exactly the most encouraging sentiment as we move into 2008, when Ohio will most certainly be among the most important states in the country once again.
While we're certainly sympathetic to Brunner, and all that she's got to deal with in the political snakepit that is Ohio, a few investigations and/or indictments are long overdue and would go a long way towards letting the Republicanists know that she really does mean business and won't tolerate 2004-style dirty tricks in 2008.
It would also begin to bring some "Truth and Reconciliation" for the EI Advocate heroes in Ohio who have been fighting for same long before Brunner's administration even became a possibility.
In addition to Blackwell's illegal activities, several other apparent blatant crimes need investigating in order to send a clear message concerning 2008. The still-unexplained and infamous Warren County Election Night Lockdown comes to mind. As do the stickers placed over Kerry ballots during the counting in Clermont County. Of course, surely not every one of the 56 of 88 counties which lost or destroyed 2004 ballots, despite a court order, had a good excuse for violating the law, did they? Those, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg, but they would be good places to start.
Election Justice is serious business. So kudos to Bowen's Election Fraud Investigative Unit in California.
But the tireless EI Advocates in Ohio, now calling themselves the Ohio Election Justice Campaign have performed yeoman's efforts and much of the legwork for Brunner, and OH Attorney General Marc Dann. The least that Brunner can do is work with them to find some way to get at least some accountability in 2004, in order to make it damn clear that such an abberation can never happen again --- least of all in 2008.
Brunner would also do well to remember that those folks will be her very best friends in next year's elections, no matter what happens. It would be nice if she started working with them as such.
The press release from California Sec. of State Debra Bowen follows below...
SACRAMENTO – Following a probe by Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s fraud investigation unit, Tanya Bowers of Rio Linda (Sacramento County) has been charged with two felonies for allegedly falsifying signatures on a Pacific Gas & Electric-sponsored regional petition.
In March 2006, Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine alerted Secretary Bowen’s office to suspicious signatures while processing a PG&E petition. After conducting an investigation, the Secretary’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit found that Bowers, a signature-gatherer hired by the proponents, appeared to have forged the names of five voters, including two who were deceased. Bowers earned 75 cents per signature, thereby earning $3.75 from the allegedly fraudulent signatures.
The PG&E petition, which later became Measure H, sought to require existing Sacramento Municipal Utility District customer approval for any future SMUD annexations. The suspicious signatures were excluded as county elections workers tallied and validated petition signatures. The measure qualified for the ballot and voters approved it in June 2006.
“We cannot allow the integrity of the initiative process or the integrity of the electoral process to be undermined,” said Secretary Bowen, California’s chief elections official. “I want to thank Jill LaVine and the diligent Sacramento County elections team for catching these signatures. ”
The Sacramento County District Attorney charged Bowers with one count of subscribing to a petition the name of another (Elections Code 18613) and one of filing a false or forged instrument (Penal Code 115). The charges are punishable by up to four years in state prison.
The Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit helps maintain the integrity of the electoral process by investigating allegations of election and voter fraud in California. Potential Elections Code violations brought to the unit’s attention are thoroughly investigated and referred to law enforcement officials for prosecution when there is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. The Secretary of State’s office does not disclose information about the status of ongoing criminal investigations, but the information from a case that culminates in a criminal complaint filed by a county or state prosecutor is a public record.
Anyone who has witnessed a violation of the California Elections Code is encouraged to contact the Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit at 1-800-345-VOTE or www.sos.ca.gov/elections/elections_fraud.htm.