The Colorado secretary of state found that at least three pages of signatures on a petition to include a $12-an-hour minimum wage initiative on the state's fall ballot appeared to have been signed by the same person, but he nevertheless certified the petition as sufficient.
The secretary's office said that, after examining a small portion of the signatures, enough appeared to be valid to merit putting the wage initiative before voters.
Lynn Bartels, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Wayne Williams, told the Washington Examiner Wednesday that under state law the office cannot invalidate names on a petition even when there is reasonable grounds to suspect they are forged. It is up to the attorney general to investigate any potential fraud. "We do not have the authority to verify signatures," Bartels said.
Bartels said state policy is that when a petition is submitted, a computer-generated sample of 5 percent of the names on it is created. The sample is analyzed to determine if the number of signatures on it corresponds to enough actual voters to indicate that the overall petition has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. If the sample indicates the overall ballot has 110 percent of the total number required to qualify, it is automatically accepted.
In a statement Thursday, the secretary's office said the petition was found to include "several potentially forged signature lines." However, the secretary of state "does not conduct signature verification when reviewing petitions so our office has referred the questionable section to the Attorney General's Office."
Advocates for a $12 state minimum wage submitted petitions with more than 189,000 names and addresses in late July. The office determined that 3,742 of the signatures in the 5 percent sample they looked at — about 40 percent of the sample — were "invalid," meaning the names and addresses did not correspond to anyone listed on state state voter rolls and therefore may have been made up. A forged signature, on the other hand, would have to be accepted as "valid" as long as it involved the name of a real voter, Bartels said.
"A 5 percent random sample of the submitted signatures projected the number of valid signatures to be greater than 110 percent of the total number of signatures required for placement on the ballot," the secretary's office said in a statement.
Lakewood, Colo., resident Randal Wagner's name was among those submitted, even though he isn't a supporter of the initiative. "It's disturbing," he told the local ABC News affiliate Monday.
A spokesman for Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, a coalition group promoting the $12 rate, could not be reached for comment. Colorado has a statewide minimum wage of $8.31 an hour, more than a dollar higher than the federal minimum of $7.25.
The number of invalid signatures on the minimum wage petition was comparable to that of other petitions the secretary's office received this year. An examination of 5 percent of the signatures included in a petition to allow physician-assisted suicide, for example, found that 2,300 of the nearly 7,800 examined were invalid. That too was accepted for inclusion on the fall ballot.