Food. Cigarettes. A dollar bill, or even less.
That’s what Los Angeles Police Officer Deon Joseph says individuals offer homeless people in exchange for forged signatures on California state ballot measures on Skid Row, an area of the city known for its tent encampments, KABC reports.
“It’s been going on for years,” Joseph told the TV station. “They say, ‘Hey, you want to make a quick buck?’”
Last week, Los Angeles police arrested three people on Skid Row on felony election fraud charges after they were caught paying $1 or less to homeless people for forging signatures on a petition to get a measure on the California state ballot, Capt. Marc Reina said in a Tweet on Friday. Reina posted photos showing signature-gathering and the exchange of cash.
“They come in and they target the homeless population because they can get so many,” Reina said in a phone interview, explaining that there are hundreds and hundreds of people living on the streets. “When you see those tables and lines of people down the sidewalks it gets conspicuous, and we’re able to take action.”
The petition circulating in the neighborhood last week was in support of a proposed referendum to overturn a 2018 law that replaced California’s old money bail system with a new system granting pretrial release based on a public safety and flight risk assessment, Reina said. A proposed referendum to overturn that law was cleared to begin gathering signatures earlier this month, according to a news release from California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
Reina said police do not yet know if those gathering the signatures are connected with lobbying groups promoting the referendum. He also said homeless people are sometimes asked to forge the name of more than one voter on the petitions.
Earlier this year, three men were arrested for paying the homeless on Skid Row to forge names on campaign petitions, NBC Los Angeles reported in March. Those arrests came after an undercover operation.
In that earlier instance, police said they seized thousands in cash as well as lists of Los Angeles County voters, NBC reports. Authorities said the men had paperwork for four measures: one increasing oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and cutting jail time in Los Angeles, a second improving the safety of Long Beach hotel workers, a third to cut the number of felons that qualify as nonviolent throughout California and a fourth to raise taxes on millionaires and businesses owners statewide, according to the TV station.
A leader involved in the Long Beach measure condemned the alleged illegal signature-gathering.
“More than 46,000 Long Beach residents signed the petition to put an initiative on the ballot in November to protect women from sexual assault,” said Juana Melara, the campaign’s manager and a local hotel worker, according to the Long Beach Post. “While we have no information about these particular individuals, we of course do not endorse the type of misconduct alleged.”
Ultimately, the men arrested in March on suspicion of election fraud only faced misdemeanor charges, NBC reports.
“It sends the message that it’s not a big deal,” Joseph told KABC following the arrests that were announced last week. “And as a result these guys come back.”
Padilla, the secretary of state, told KABC that the state takes voter fraud seriously, but added that the crime “is exceedingly rare,” citing years of studies and reviews.
Though several arrests in connection with suspected Skid Row election fraud have been made this year, Reina said catching illegal signature-gatherers in the act is tough because it happens at unpredictable times — everything from a Thursday at midnight to a Saturday morning, leaving police with a small window to take action.
“We’ve had a few instances where officers have just gone in and told them to move along,” Reina said.