Voter Fraud Scam In Los Angeles Traded Dollar Bills, Cigarettes To Homeless In Exchange For Ballot Signatures

A depleted looking area in an urban center.
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A voter fraud scam in Los Angeles reportedly traded dollar bills and individual cigarettes to homeless people in exchange for signatures to support ballot measures.

Authorities say the scheme targeted the hundreds of homeless people living in the city’s Skid Row area, offering small bribes in exchange for help in getting petitions on the California state ballot and voter registrations. As the Sacramento Bee reported, police have arrested nine people on felony charges for the alleged scheme. Three people were arrested back in September after they allegedly circulated a petition for a bill overturning the state’s cash bail system.

Local authorities said that the scheme targeted the vulnerable homeless population.

“They come in and they target the homeless population because they can get so many [signatures],” Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Marc Reina said in a phone interview in September. “When you see those tables and lines of people down the sidewalks it gets conspicuous, and we’re able to take action.”

The story also seemed to reinforce claims offered up by a number of Republicans — including President Donald Trump — that there was widespread voter fraud. Trump had repeatedly claimed that Democrats engaged in voter and election fraud, including claims that millions of illegal aliens voted in the 2016 election, allowing Hillary Clinton to beat him in the popular vote.

Republicans seized on the current allegations as proof that voter fraud does take place.

“Democrats in California continue to pretend voter fraud doesn’t exist,” Matt Fleming, spokesman for the Republican Party of California, told NBC News in an email. “However, this incident highlights the need for more investigation of claims.”

Though the arrests have gotten national attention, local police said that the practice of paying homeless people a nominal fee to sign election petitions has been going on for a long time. Local officials said that the scheme was isolated, and not part of any widespread operation.

But they did say that the scheme undermined confidence in democracy, especially in a state like California which takes people at their word when attaching their signature to ballot measures and voter registration forms.

“They paid individuals to sign the names,” Officer Deon Joseph — who works on Skid Row — told the Los Angeles Times in an interview in September, after the initial arrests. “That’s an assault on our democracy.”

Those arrested on voter fraud charges in Los Angeles face a maximum of four to six years behind bars, prosecutors said.