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Progressive Group Claims Ballot Petitions Included Forgeries

Tuesday, a liberal nonprofit accused conservative activists of election fraud. Our Oregon filed an official complaint with the Secretary of State.

The complaint alleges that signature collectors used forged voters' signatures on ballot petitions. Ethan Lindsey reports.

Last week, a federal court in Portland heard arguments over a potential ballot measure to make domestic partnerships illegal.

The legal case was less about same sex couples - and more about how  to verify the validity of ballot petition signatures.

Margaret Olney is an attorney for the gay rights group, Basic Rights Oregon.

At a loud press conference outside of court, she said there were problems with many of the signatures.

Editor's Note

The original version of this story reported that Basic Rights Oregon attorney Margaret Olney believed forgery was rare. That is not correct. Ms. Olney said forgery is a problem and that the system needs more checks and balances to catch those cases. OPB regrets the error.

Margaret Olney: “It's all again about a system that is as self-enforcing as possible, so that we don't have to spend our scarce resources tracking down and prosecuting forgers.”

The judges in the case wondered aloud whether the names on a ballot petition should be contacted, to see if they did indeed sign the petition.

'Our Oregon' is a liberal non-profit funded by the state's two largest public employee unions.

Spokesman Scott Moore says since the Secretary of State's office didn't check the suspicious signatures, his group decided to take matters into its own hands.

Scott Moore: “Once we started going through the petition sheets, we started seeing a lot of patterns that were alarming. The extensive use of carbon paper. There were a number of distinct handwriting styles that would appear en masse. What all these things added up to were some high suspicions of something untoward happening.”

Our Oregon filed an official complaint with the state elections division Tuesday. The complaint alleges that systematic forgery and fraud occurred under the watch of anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore and the signature-collecting company Democracy Direct.

The complaint lists four individuals who claim their signatures were forged. Marilyn Dale is listed as signing a petition to vote on a teacher merit pay law. Dale recounts what went through her head when she first looked at the signature.

Marilyn Dale: “The first thing that stood out, first of all, was the N, and then the E, and then the K. I started looking back at some of my writing, and it's not my signature.”

Our Oregon says it was able to contact about 70 people with suspicious signatures. Of that number, a handful said their signatures were forged and agreed to be named in the complaint.

Bill Sizemore, the man behind the teacher merit pay initiative, says the complaint is a witchhunt.

He says since the forgeries were discovered by this outside group, and not the state's internal checks, they have no legal weight. Plus, he says the small number of forgeries found proves that there is no pattern.

Bill Sizemore: “If anybody has forged signatures, than that person should be prosecuted and put in jail. Frankly, forgery is a rare thing and Our Oregon is trying to give the initiative process a bad name and smear people. I don't think there is any legal ramifications for us - or that it will affect our measures being on the ballot."

Sizemore believes the teachers unions want to impugn his reputation - and the reputation of the ballot process, which historically has favored more conservative votes.

If that's the strategy, it may be working.

Marilyn Dale, the woman who believes her signature was forged, is a conservative voter.

Marilyn Dale: “I will not ever sign anything other than my ballot. I will never sign another initiative , ever.”

Our Oregon also accused Bill Sizemore of using illegal methods to obtain real signatures.  But the Secretary of State's office already ruled that those signatures stand, since they were collected before a petition crackdown went into effect on January 1.

Our Oregon says that if fraud and forgery is discovered, the Department of Justice should investigate.

The Secretary of State's office says it is reviewing the complaint.

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