A video that appears to show a petition signature gatherer giving candy bars in exchange for petition signatures will not result in any criminal action nor any punitive action by the Secretary of State’s office, but raises interesting issues about the petition process in an election year that’s already seen accusations of forgery.
Natalie Menten took the video on her iPad near Union Station just days before the petition deadline. Menten is an elected member of the RTD board, and filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office. (The actions of filing a complaint were on her own behalf as a citizen, and not related to RTD in any way).
“I was at Union Station having transferring from the A-Line to the light rail. When I got to the platform I heard and watched a petition circulator with a rolling suitcase offering people walking by him a candy bar for signing petitions,” Menten told Complete Colorado. “I sat down and started to record the exchange as I’m very passionate about some ballot issues and I wanted to capture the event.”
According to Colorado Revised Statues § 1-13-401, “Any person who offers…any bribe or promise of gain to an elector to induce him to sign any petition…is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished as provided in section 1-13-111.”
However, the Secretary of State’s office is not the jurisdiction that would likely handle a situation such as this.
“Our office spoke at length with Ms. Menten and let her know that, while we can’t pursue the criminal charge, she has the option to file her complaint with the D.A. who has the authority to prosecute election offenses,” said Lynn Bartels, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
The video and audio never detail a direct “quid pro quo” in which the signature gatherer says he is giving the candy bar as a direct trade for someone signing the petitions. But the gatherer only gives the petition signer a candy bar when the person has finished signing.
Menten doesn’t want to move the issue to the DA’s office. “I don’t think I want to take their limited time to what appears to mean pressing charges of bribery for candy bars.”
The Secretary of State’s office says they do have some punitive measures at their disposal they can take against the company that employs paid signature gatherers if their workers or independent contractors break the law. However, Menten’s complaint didn’t make any allegations that the agency which employed this signature gatherer authorized or permitted the behavior.
Besides being on the RTD board, Menten is a political activist in Jefferson County, and says she hopes the video will lead people to vote against an initiative that would make it harder for citizen-initiated Constitutional amendments to make it onto the ballot.
“I know this could have been an isolated incident but in the case of (Amendment) 71 proponents, named Raise the Bar – they should be renamed Raise the Candy Bar??”
The signature gatherer caught on the video was obtaining signatures for Amendment 71 which would revise the number of signatures needed to place a citizen-proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot. The gatherer was also working for initiatives that separately would raise the tax on cigarettes, another that would change Colorado’s caucus system in presidential voting years to a primary vote, and a third would allow unaffiliated voters to have some ability to vote in primary elections without having to affiliate with a party. All of these measures will be on the November ballot.
Of the three petition gathering entities which could have been the contracting agency for this signature gatherer, one did not return emails requesting comment, and the other two declined to comment on the record.