State: 89% error rate on one gatherer's I-1098 petitions

OLYMPIA -- A person who gathered signatures for I-1098 is now the subject of a fraud investigation after the state's Secretary of State's office determined just about all of the signatures this person submitted were invalid.

The person turned in 349 names on 20 petition sheets in support of Initiative 1098, which seeks to impose an income tax on Washington state's wealthier residents. But a review from the state elections division found that the sheets had an 89.1 percent error rate, said Secretary of State Communication Director David Ammons. The names were tossed either because the person was not found on voter registration rolls or the signature and address did not match those on file.

Those 20 petitions were set aside and not counted in the overall petition signature check on the initiative, which still easily passed muster and will be on the November ballot.

Secretary of State Sam Reed says his office is taking the case quite seriously and has asked the State Patrol to investigate.

"This is the worst case of attempted signature fraud we have seen in modern times," he said. "It may be only a tiny percentage of the total signatures, but it does represent an attack on the process, which relies greatly on the integrity of the people who circulate the petitions. For that reason, we are bringing the full force of the law to bear."

Initiative signature fraud is a felony punishable by 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Reed's office has not identified the suspect.