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Signature Gatherers Duped San Diegans Into Signing Up For New Political Party

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Speaker 1: 00:00 Yesterday we told you about how signature gatherers signed up San Diego voters for a new political party without their knowledge or consent. It's called the common sense party and experts say it's methods for registering voters raised ethical and legal issues today. KPBS investigative reporter Claire sir gets to the bottom of what happened.

Speaker 2: 00:21 Quick recap. We talked to 31 people who are registered as members of the common sense party and 30 of them had no idea what I was talking about. They'd never heard of the party and didn't remember signing up. All of those 30 people were signed up by paid signature gatherers. I knew the LA Jolla group was hired by the common sense party to sign up voters, so I went to their offices, which are in Kearny Mesa. Hi, this is the LA Jolla group. I'm a reporter with KPBS, the head of the firm. Bob Glazer was there and he agreed to talk to me. He says, the registrar voters had found one instance of a voter being signed up for the common sense party without their knowledge. He says it was the signature gatherers fault.

Speaker 3: 01:13 The secretary gathered was turned over, the registrar who contacted the signature gather. So between them, and we don't take any more cards from that person,

Speaker 2: 01:20 but he says they didn't report it to the common sense party leaders still, he insisted his company's methods are above board to sign people up for [inaudible].

Speaker 3: 01:31 I've been doing this 35 years. I'm an attorney, I'm fully aware of all of the, uh, importance of these cards and we, uh, do not allow any type of fraud or any other type of problems. And when the registrar gave me the one problem, we immediately researched it.

Speaker 2: 01:50 Then I called Chris Easterling, he's a signature gatherer whose name is on the registration forms for several people who said they unknowingly joined the common sense party.

Speaker 4: 02:01 The people were signing people up without their knowledge. I mean, that's going to happen if people are having people get paid to sign them up, right? I mean, so there's going to be people that are not going to be ethical.

Speaker 2: 02:15 He says he works with the LA Jolla group and says, starting in December or January, the firm changed his policy. Now he says common sense registrations have to be in the voters own handwriting.

Speaker 4: 02:28 Those are the people doing these that are, you know, you know, gonna try to, you know, gain the system. But now they figured that out and now they said it has to be in their own handwriting. But to count

Speaker 2: 02:42 he claims he never filled out someone's form for them.

Speaker 1: 02:46 That's fascinating. In a bad way.

Speaker 2: 02:50 Well Rodriguez Kennedy is the chairman of the San Diego County democratic party and he had never heard of the common sense party, but his mind immediately went to what party these common sense registrants had come from.

Speaker 1: 03:04 I'm like, are they a no party preference? Were they Democrats? Were they Democrats? They were Democrats.

Speaker 2: 03:10 Yep. About half of the common sense. Voters who are already registered to vote used to be Democrats. Well, 10% were Republicans. It appears signature gatherers, targeted specific groups. Nearly 40% of common sense party voters in San Diego are under 25 and almost two thirds live in urban areas South of interstate eight so then I went back to the organizers of the common sense party to ask about what I'd found. That's, that's crazy. Julie Myra, right? A well known former Republican who lives in San Diego was shocked. She claims she didn't know people were duped into joining the party and pledged to look into their allegations.

Speaker 1: 03:56 I will personally make sure that we get to the bottom of this.

Speaker 2: 04:00 She needs to act quickly, vote by mail. Ballots have already gone out. So common sense voters will have to contact the registrar to ask for a new ballot if they want to vote in the democratic primary. Claire Trag, sir KPBS news.

Speaker 1: 04:16 Joining me is KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trek a circle. Claire, welcome. Thank you. Tell us how you first found out about the common sense party and their push for recognition.

Speaker 2: 04:26 Sure. So it started out where I was just looking into a story about this new political party. It seemed like they had some well known backers and and some funding and they were trying to break up the two party system in California, provide this moderate alternative to Democrats and Republicans. And so I just started calling people who are registered with the party. I got the information from the registrar of voters and you know, I said, Oh there's one person who had never heard of this party before, didn't know what I was talking about. That's two people, that's three people. And it just kind of kept going. And I ended up talking, as I say in the story, it is 31 people and 30 of them had never heard of the party before, didn't know what I was talking about and all 30 who didn't know what I was talking about had signed up with signature gathers and the one person who did intend to sign up with a party had signed up online.

Speaker 1: 05:20 Now in, in the first part of your report you found out that some of the forms being handed in by signature gatherers for the common sense party seem to have been altered. Remind us about that.

Speaker 2: 05:32 Sure. So for some of the people that I spoke with who said, yes, I'm apparently I'm signed up with a common sense party, but you're just telling me that I don't, I don't know. I haven't heard of that party before. Um, I then went to the registrar voters and asked to look at their voter registration forms. He, he redacted their address and their personal information, but you can see their name and their birthday and then you can see on the forms that for most of them, uh, the under political party, the other box is checked and common sense is written in, but it's in a different handwriting then the name and the birthday on the form, it seems like someone else had filled in the form for them with their information. Now did the head of

Speaker 1: 06:17 the signature gathering operation LA Jolla group, did they say they independently examine any of the forms before they're handed into the registrar?

Speaker 2: 06:27 Well, so what the common sense party told me is that they do, I'm a random audit. I think that's just standard practice for when you're doing a petition drive. You want to make sure that, you know, the signatures that you're collecting are from real people. You know, you're just sending people out on the street. What if they just sat at home and you know, made up people sign fake names. But the issue is that no one is saying that the signatures aren't valid or that these aren't real people even though the people were real people who really signed up, they didn't. No one told them that they're signing up for a specific political

Speaker 1: 07:02 party. What does the County registrar of voters need to begin an investigation into? These apparently tampered forms.

Speaker 2: 07:09 Yeah, so he says that, um, you know, it, it could potentially be fraud and any complaints that he gets then he would forward them on to the district attorney or the secretary of state. So one of the people who signed up, yes. You would have to make the complaint. Yeah. Any of the people who signed up would, would have to make the complaint to the registrar.

Speaker 1: 07:30 Now you found out that a well known Republican was promoting a new third party, which just happens to be signing up mostly young South of eight Democrats. Now on the face of it, that sounds suspicious. What did the common sense party people have to say about that?

Speaker 2: 07:47 Um, well I asked, you know, I said, you know, aside from the fact that people are saying that they didn't know they were signed up for this party, most of the people who are signed up are from Barrio Logan, nurse city Heights or skyline. And you know, one of the organizers said, well, there's just more Democrats everywhere in the state. So you know, if you take a point on a map, it's more likely that you're going to run into Democrats than Republicans. But I did ask, will Rodriguez Kennedy, who's the chair of the local democratic party, if he thought, you know, this could be some kind of conspiracy to take people out of the democratic party. And he said, no, he didn't think so. It just sounded like they were going to areas where they felt like it was, would be easier to get people to sign to sign petitions.

Speaker 1: 08:36 So there's a larger implication in this story about all the signature gatherers that we see outside stores and supermarkets. Is anybody checking the way that you did to find out if voters are being duped into signing petitions?

Speaker 2: 08:52 Well, I mean it's come up in all of these other drives. I remember back when there was the petition drive to repeal the San Diego city councils, uh, ordinance to increase the minimum wage. And people were going around saying, sign this petition to raise the minimum wage when really it was actually to repeal the minimum wage increase. So I think, you know, when these things happen, there can be legal challenges that come out of it. But I don't know, this is somewhat of a new thing where you have people who are getting paid to register people with a specific party. Um, you know, when you do a petition drive you say, are you a registered voter? Cause if you're not, I need to register you. Otherwise your signature doesn't count, but they're not, you know, then getting paid by a party to collect people in that party.

Speaker 2: 09:38 So I think this is sort of a new thing and I don't think that anyone is checking. I mean now that the, that I brought this to the attention of the common sense party. They say that they're going to go through and contact everyone, um, who is a registered member of the common sense party to make sure that they are okay with that. They said that they're going to email people, which, you know, I'm about one out of 10 people in the registrar's database actually has a listed email address. So I don't, if that's the way that they're going to reach people, they're probably not going to reach the majority of people who are impacted by this. I've been speaking with KPBS investigative reporter Claire charges or Claire. Thank you. Thank you.

There's a new party in the state that aims to fill the middle of today's increasingly divided politics. The "Common Sense Party" is actively recruiting. But KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser found problems with the way it's signing up voters

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.