Nine people have been charged in a scheme in which homeless individuals were targeted as pawns in an election fraud operation, officials said Tuesday.
Officials said homeless people were given either cash or cigarettes in exchange for signatures on voter registration forms and state ballot proposition petitions. In California, residents can petition the state to put items on the ballot, meaning that signatures on a petition calling for the vote become part of the legal process.
After hundreds of names were fraudulently gathered in the 2016 and 2018 elections, nine people were charged with multiple felonies, The New York Times reported. Charges against the leaders of the group carry sentences that could lead to more than six years in jail; the others in the group could face more than four years behind bars.
In September, Los Angeles police targeted the Skid Row neighborhood to target individuals who exchanged cash or cigarettes for signatures, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“They paid individuals to sign the names,” said Officer Deon Joseph, the senior lead officer on the investigation. “That’s an assault on our democracy.”
Joseph said desperation led homeless individuals to participate.
“Homeless individuals would line up, the suspect would say, simply, ‘Sign this person’s name on the line, and we’ll give you a cigarette or $1 for it,'” Capt. Marc Reina said.
The suspects have been charged with paying the homeless for hundreds of false names and signatures on various ballot initiatives.
Joseph said that there is no single political party or ideology that has a market on seeking false signatures, which are often gathered by parties or lobbyists who pay the signature gatherers to get the job done. Sometimes, homeless individuals try to gather signatures so they can make a few bucks, Joseph said.
“The lure is the money,” Joseph said.
Joseph said the crackdown is meant as a deterrence.
“Whether people are homeless or rich, no one is above the law,” Joseph said. “If they do it here, they will do it to any other disenfranchised group.”
He said that this year, police were finally able to get what they needed to prosecute those preying on the homeless.
“This is nothing new, it’s been going on for a long time but they got lazy, and thankfully our dedicated officers were able to stumble upon it and make some really great arrests,” Joseph said.
Those who signed petitions or other forms were not targeted by the crackdown.
“We didn’t charge any homeless people,” said district attorney spokeswoman Shiara Davila-Morales, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.