Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington has called for authorities to investigate possible fraudulent signatures on two ballot initiatives. Some Mississippi County residents in Ellington's Second Judicial District have signed sworn affidavits alleging that they never signed an initiated act to raise the state's severance tax. Ellington said similar allegations have come in Craighead and Crittenden Counties over professional poker player and business woman Nancy Todd's proposed constitutional amendment to allow more casino gambling in the state. He's referred the allegations to the state police and county sheriffs.
Naturally, the Stop Casinos Now! Committee (funded by Southland, effectively a casino itself) is pleased. Committee Chairman Chuck Lange released this statement:
"On behalf of Stop Casinos Now! committee members and the people of Arkansas, we want to thank Prosecutor Ellington for asking law enforcement to investigate 'suspicions of fraudulent signatures' collected by Nancy Todd. We hope this investigation brings to light actions by Nancy Todd to collect an 'extreme' number of questionable signatures."
"We will continue our own internal investigation of the signatures and assist law enforcement in any way we can to protect Arkansans in the future."
As Max has reported, the secretary of state's office had previously said it was mulling seeking a police investigation into canvassing fraud, but didn't plan to make a decision until after it had finished vetting signatures.
Sheffield Nelson, who led the severance tax campaign, suspended his petition drive in July after 70 percent of the signatures the campaign turned into the secretary of state's office were invalidated. Todd had a similar success rate with her casino amendment. She has until Aug. 22 to turn in almost 56,000 additional signatures.
On the jump, I'm tacking on what Max wrote back in July about that threat of investigation. Still applies.
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?