Ballot Solicitors Seek Signatures Illegally
On April 8, a man identified as Ryan Smith employed by Arno Political Consultants was seen handing out $5 bills to anyone on Ring Road who provided signatures for various ballot measures as well as voter registration forms according to a number of students who said they recieved money from Smith that day.
‘In the fifteen minutes that I was watching the table, about 20 students had approached him,’ said third-year ICS major Minh Bach, one of the students who was in the area that day.
APC, located in Rancho Cordova, consults politicians and companies interested in gathering signatures for certain ballot measures.
Some of their customers have included former U.S. presidential candidates Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bob Dole and their respective vice presidents as well as major corporations like Phillip Morris and WalMart.
Independently contracted by the company, Smith was seen exchanging the money in return for signatures on various ballot measures. In some cases, the students accepted.
‘He was just saying ‘sign this and I’ll give you $5,” Bach said.
Mark Cox, an employee for San Diego-based company Victory Consultants, was at a nearby booth when he saw the exchanges taking place.
‘I called the police because he was giving away the money in return for signing petitions, basically, in return for a vote,’ Cox said.
Cox was almost certain that the company was unaware of Smith giving out money.
In another location, two men were manning a similar table in which they were handing out $1 gold coins in return for voter registration cards and petition signatures. In this particular instance, the signee was told to sign the papers as if they were part of the voter registration process.
The two men are employees for Irvine-based company Braveheart Petitions, which was completely surprised and unaware of the methods that were being used to garner signatures.
According to an employee of Braveheart Petitions, representatives of the company are not allowed to offer any sort of compensation in return for petition signatures or voter registration forms.
Both booths were allowed to continue operation after the representatives claimed to have been giving out the money regardless of whether the signatures were received or not, according to Marti Barmore, director of campus organizations and community service.
‘The companies are OK and as long as they are giving out the money to anybody, then that is fine,’ Barmore said.
However, New University reporters observed that the money was being handed out specifically to individuals who approached the table and filled out both voter registration forms and petition forms.
According to the Orange County District Attorney’s office, the act is a misdemeanor and will result in an investigation by the state. Students were observed being given the coin after the signatures were provided.
According to federal law, this practice differs from the traditional ‘canvassing,’ which involves soliciting votes from potential voters in an electoral campaign. Although it is legal to provide compensation for registering to vote, it is illegal to coerce an individual to vote in favor of a particular party or official, as well as signing politically-motivated ballot measures and petitions by any means, especially through financial compensation.
The petitions available for people to sign were related to government money for local K-12 schools.
According to Cox, he had been gathering signatures on behalf of Victory Consultants but never provided compensation.
‘They get approximately $22 per signee on these petitions,’ according to Cox.
Smith denies all accusations of handing out the money.
‘I never handed out any money,’ Smith said. ‘I think Cox was just trying to get rid of his competition because he saw that I was getting more signatures than him. Getting signatures is pretty fierce competition.’
Smith also claimed to have witnesses observing his interaction with passersby.
Smith could not provide the names or contact information for those witnesses by presstime.
The case is currently being investigated by the DA’s office and the UCI Police Department.
Representatives from APC were not immediately available for comment.
Cox’s advice for students was to be aware of situations like this where money is being offered in return for political vote.
‘What these tablers are doing is not a smart thing to do at all,’ Cox said.
Barmore also commented on previous incidents on campus that were subject to review.
Three weeks ago, credit card company representatives had been seen photographing peoples’ driver’s licenses after filling out credit card applications.
‘Students are good targets for identity theft,’ Barmore said. ‘Younger students think it’s OK because they have this idea that the administration would not let these companies come on campus if it wasn’t OK.’