- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - An initiative petition that sought to qualify an early voting measure for the Missouri ballot included the supposed signatures of dead people among other potentially fraudulent names, according to a report from the state’s top election official.

Secretary of State Jason Kander referred several instances of “potential irregularities” involving the initiative petitions to prosecutors in seven Missouri counties, he said in a recent report from his elections integrity unit.

Republican political consultant Jeff Roe said Monday that the potential fraud may have been even more widespread than reported by the state. Roe, who opposed the ballot measure, commissioned a review by a law firm of the petition signatures submitted in 69 of Missouri’s 114 counties. That review identified up to 2,246 instances of potential signature fraud across 15 counties, more than half of which occurred in Boone County.

The early voting initiative did not make the November ballot because the secretary of state’s office determined it hadn’t gotten enough valid signatures.

The initiative, which was backed by Democratic-aligned groups, sought to create a 42-day, no-excuse-needed early voting period that would have been one of the longest in the nation. Missouri currently allows absentee voting only for people who attest that they cannot vote in person on Election Day.

The report by Kander, a Democrat, said his office reviewed potential petition signature irregularities in 11 counties after local election officials had expressed concerns to his office. It referred the matter to prosecutors in seven counties - Boone, Buchanan, Cooper, Grundy, Knox, Pike and Schuyler - in August.

Buchanan County Prosecutor Dwight Scroggins Jr. said he responded to Kander’s office by suggesting it should work with law enforcement agencies for further investigation. The secretary of state’s office hasn’t subsequently referred the cases to the Buchanan County sheriff or local police, said Kander spokeswoman Laura Swinford.

Prosecutors in the other counties had not responded Monday to phone inquiries from The Associated Press about whether they were pursuing the cases.

Kander’s report said the petitions contained the purported signatures of people who had died before the date listed next to their signatures in Boone, Buchanan, Cooper, Knox, Macon, Pike and Schuyler counties. One of the Buchanan County residents who purportedly signed the petition had been dead since 1993, according to documents provided to the AP by Kander’s office.

In some other instances, individuals whose names were signed to the petitions told the secretary of state’s office that they had not signed the sheets.

Attorney Matt Dameron, who was the treasurer for the group sponsoring the early voting initiative, did not immediately respond to a phone message Monday seeking comment.

Roe said the petition-signature review he commissioned through The Law Firm of Graves Garettt in Kansas City shows there was “widespread fraud” by the people signing or circulating the petitions.

“It looked like they were taking a clipboard and phone book and just filling them all out,” Roe said. He added: “The only way to guarantee that this isn’t going to happen again is if people are prosecuted.”

Petition signature fraud is misdemeanor crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Democrats and Republicans have been battling nationally over state early voting laws based on an assumption that generous early voting periods benefit Democrats more than Republicans. New research suggests those partisan assumptions about early voting may not be true. Yet the perception is deeply grounded because of President Barack Obama’s pioneering use of early voting to drive a greater number of Democrats to the polls in his victories in 2008 and 2012.

Early voting was a particularly politically-charged issue in Missouri this year. While Democratic-aligned groups were collecting signatures for the ultimately unsuccessful initiative petition drive, Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature referred a more limited form of early voting to the November ballot. The Legislature’s proposed constitutional amendment was defeated by voters.

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Follow David A. Lieb at: https://twitter.com/DavidALieb

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