by Max Brantley
There's been facial evidence of multiple signatures signed by the same person, the same voter signing a single petition more than once and questions about whether those who signed petitions attesting to witnessing of signatures actually witnessed them.
These are routine happenings in petition campaigns, when volunteers or piecework temporary laborers do most of the work. But the incidence of invalid signatures on petitions seems to have been higher this year, with large failure rates on every statewide effort.
Backers of drives that turned in high numbers of invalid signatures — including Sheffield Nelson, who led a severance tax campaign, and Nancy Todd, who's leading an effort to allow more casino gambling in Arkansas — say they want fraud rooted out just as much as opponents of the measures. Perhaps investigations of these potential misdemeanor offenses and prosecutions would discourage future abuses.
It's worth remembering that the vetting process worked, in part because of the easier checking now allowed by computerized records. Fraudulent signatures weren't counted. Drives failed and backers who paid significant sums for signatures, good and bad, are out of luck. It won't be surprising if not a single petition drive this year succeeds. The harm to the public — if there be harm in a statewide vote on a measure that might have made the ballot on the strength of some ministerially improper signatures (without properly notarized witnessing, for example) — seems likely to be non-existent this year, except in the expense of the secretary of state's validation process. But government exists to fulfill all sorts of functions that require expenditures for efforts that might come to nothing. Are people petitioning government to be penalized, too, for honest mistakes in a process that is difficult by design?
Think of the money we waste on hundreds of unsuccessful pieces of legislation every year. Perhaps we should make legislators pay a fee for introducing bills that don't pass, as has been suggested for signatures that are invalidated. And what about a big nasty fee for legislators who filed for expenses to which they were not entitled? Where's the legislative call for investigation and prosecution of the fraudsters in their own midst?