Denver7 confirms forged signatures that the Secretary of State suspected, but could not investigate

Posted at 11:45 PM, Aug 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-16 01:45:54-04

LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- The signature collector who turned in a ballot issue petition that is now under investigation by the Colorado Attorney General's Office denies any wrongdoing.

The Secretary of State's Office on Thursday certified that enough valid signatures were turned in to get an issue on the November ballot asking voters to raise the state's minimum wage.

Backers of the initiative needed 98,492 valid signatures. More than 189,000 signatures were turned in. Based on a sampling of five percent of those signatures, the Secretary of State determined that 114,939 were projected to be valid. That gave the group 16,000 signatures more than needed to qualify for the ballot.

The Secretary of State's Office also noted that three pages of a petition appeared to include signatures written by the same person.

On Monday, Denver7 went to that address listed on the signature collector affidavit. The person who answered the door said that we were looking for his brother who does not live there. The brother did, however, get the man on the phone.

The signature collector, whose name is not being revealed because he has not been charged with a crime, told Denver7 political reporter Marshall Zelinger that he did nothing wrong.

"I want to record this answer and use it for my story 10 o'clock story tonight, is that OK?" asked Zelinger.

"Go ahead," said the signature collector.

"Alright, did you forge any signatures?" asked Zelinger.

"No," said the signature collector.

As Denver7 discovered in our first exclusive forged signature investigation in May, the Secretary of State can only verify if the name and address on a petition match the name and address on file for that person's voter registration. State law has to change to allow the Secretary of State to compare and disqualify a signature for being forged.

"We simply don't have the statutory authority to reject something based on our inkling that it might possibly be forged," said Ben Schler, legal and policy manager for the Elections Division of the Secretary of State's Office. "We can't adjust our processes just because we have an inclination."

Schler said that one of the signatures believed to be forged was among the five percent sample to determine if enough valid signatures were turned in. That signature was counted as valid, despite their suspicions, because the name and address matched the voter registration. The Secretary of State's Office does not investigate, however, because of Denver7's previous investigation in May, internal policy changed and the issue was referred to the Attorney General's Office for investigation.

While the Secretary of State's Office can't investigate, Denver7 can.

We found the voter whose signature was counted as valid even though there was suspicion it was forged.

"Do you see your name on this list?" asked Zelinger.

"Yes, I do," said Lakewood voter Randal Wagner.

"Is that your handwriting?" asked Zelinger.

"No, it isn't,' said Wagner.

"Did you sign this petition?" asked Zelinger.

"No, I did not," said Wagner.

"How do you feel about knowing that someone signed this with your name?" asked Zelinger.

"It's disturbing," said Wagner.

Wagner said that not only had he not signed the petition for the minimum wage issue, he actually turned down the opportunity to sign the petition when approached at the grocery store.

An investigator from the Attorney General's Office had already visited Wagner earlier on Monday, to confirm the signature was not authentic.

"It's just nice to know that the Attorney General's Office is taking it seriously and I'm very pleased," said Wagner.

While going door-to-door to verify other signatures, Denver7 noticed a business card for the Attorney General's Office investigator in one of the screen doors at one of the homes.

"It would be nice if the Secretary of State had the authority to scrub signatures that were invalid," said Wagner.

Denver County elections does that already. State law would have to change for the Secretary of State's Office to have more power over the petition process.