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Published: Thursday, 7/25/2002

Fraud is suspected in voter sign-ups

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

The Lucas County Board of Elections has referred thousands of questionable voter registration applications to the county prosecutor to determine whether the cards, many of which appear to be signed by the same person, were filled out in a fraudulent manner.

Other problems with the registrations, including wrong addresses, birth dates, and Social Security numbers, have led elections office workers to set the cards aside for further investigation.

Falsifying a voter registration card is a fifth-degree felony under the Ohio Revised Code.

Elections Director Joe Kidd said the board has received about 8,000 new registrations from Progressive Campaigns, Inc., of Santa Monica, Calif., a company that specializes in qualifying initiative petitions for statewide ballots around the country. About half of those registrations are questionable, he told board members yesterday.

“In my mind, I wasn't satisfied they were OK,” Mr. Kidd said.

“If there is any suspicion, I believe they should be turned over,” said Tom Noe, a Republican member of the elections board.

The initiative petition measure would amend the state constitution to send first and second-time drug offenders to treatment instead of to trial and possibly jail.

Ross Williams, a local supervisor for the firm, attended the meeting and told board members he has instructed his workers to solicit voter registrations from petition signers if they are uncertain whether they are registered to vote. Only signatures from registered voters are counted toward qualifying initiatives to the ballot.

But, Mr. Williams said, the workers are independent contractors who operate outside the direct supervision of the company.

“We think there is some possibility that there might be people out there committing fraudulent acts,” he said.

Circulators are paid between 75 cents and $2 for each signature they collect on the petitions, Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Kidd said his initial investigation leads him to believe circulators may have falsified voter registration cards with names from the phone book or some other data base, and then padded the initiative petitions with those names to boost their paychecks. “This happens quite often,” Mr. Williams told the board. “It happens in every campaign, but not to this degree. This is an epidemic.”

The voter registration cards are collected by Mr. Williams from local petition circulators on a weekly basis and are sent to California, which then sorts them by county and sends them back to the appropriate board of elections.

More than 200 circulators are working for the measure in Lucas County, Mr. Williams said.

The elections board will reconvene Aug. 5 to hear a report from the prosecutor.



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