I saw the headline on the Seattle Times op/ed page days ago, but steeled myself against clicking through. Geez I wish I had kept my resolve: "Bill to regulate initiative signature gatherers unfair."

IN the three weeks since this page criticized Senate Bill 5297, to regulate signature gatherers, a substitute bill has surfaced in the Legislature. It is still unfairly and unnecessarily restrictive of the people's rights.

[...] The bill says there is "a dramatic increase across the country in signature fraud." We have seen no such surge.

Oh God, I've written about this again and again over at HA—the reason why we find so little evidence of signature fraud here in Washington State is that we don't look for it! Meanwhile, just across the border in Oregon, the courts have consistently found enough evidence of persistent fraud to uphold a ban on paying per signature.

In fact, as recently as this past September, two more Oregon signature gatherers were indicted for fraud:

Two workers for a company that collected signatures for an Oregon initiative petition that would dedicate 15 percent of lottery proceeds for parks have been indicted on fraud charges.

The charges include certifying signatures of dead voters.

So what does alleged signature fraud in Oregon have to do with signature gathering in Washington, other than the fact that it requires magical thinking to assert that our southern border is some impenetrable barrier to fraud and identity theft? Well, it turns out that the indicted signature gatherers worked for PCI Consultants Inc., a California firm that also gathers signatures in Washington, most recently on initiatives 1098 and 1105.

So is it really all that much of a reach to suspect that the same people working for the same firm might have attempted the same sort of fraud here too, especially when our pay-per-signature system offers even greater incentive for cheating?

The fact is there's plenty of signature fraud here in Washington State, though most of it goes undetected, because the Secretary of State doesn't actively look for fraud, and because only a small fraction of submitted petitions are examined under our statistical sampling system. And what signature fraud is reported is usually discovered by the initiative campaign itself, or, say, due to the suspicious suicide of a signature firm supervisor.

Given the financial incentive for signature fraud, and the many documented fraud cases here and elsewhere, it's just hard to see how requiring paid signature gatherers to sign an oath on the petitions they submit is either "unfair" or "unnecessarily restrictive."