According to a story published Tuesday by the LA Times, nine people have been charged with election fraud. The scheme involved paying homeless people living in LA’s skid row to forge signatures for ballot initiatives:

Using cash and cigarettes as lures, the defendants approached homeless people on skid row and asked them to forge signatures on state ballot measure petitions and voter registration forms, the district attorney’s office said. The defendants — some of whom were scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday — face several criminal charges, including circulating a petition with fake names, voter fraud and registering a fictitious person.

The charges, which were filed three weeks ago but made public Tuesday, followed a Los Angeles Police Department crackdown on suspected election fraud on skid row earlier in the year.

In California, we frequently have ballot initiatives which are financial or political questions put to a direct vote during an election. This year was no exception with a number of bond questions, an attempt to repeal the gas tax, a question on rent control, and a possible change to daylight savings time among others. But each of these measures has to qualify to be on the ballot by following specific steps. The step which makes or breaks most of these initiatives is raising tens of thousands of signatures which are then submitted to the California Secretary of State for confirmation. And that’s where the temptation to cheat creeps in.

Some of the arrests made in this case came three weeks ago, before the election. KABC in Los Angeles reported at the time:

Los Angeles Police Department officer Deon Joseph knows his way around Skid Row. It’s been his beat for the last 20 years…

“This is where they do most of the voter registration fraud,” he said, pointing to the sidewalk in front of the Midnight Mission. “It’s been going on for years.”

Joseph says it’s pretty common for people hired by lobbyists to set up tables outside the missions and illegally pay people for fake signatures used for various ballot measures from all across California.

“They say, ‘Hey, you wanna make a quick buck?” Joseph explained. “They can get a quarter, a dollar, a cigarette and sometimes food. But in the last few cases it’s been money.”

In theory, California authorities would catch these fakes. LA County’s election chief tells the LA Times that his staff compares every signature to the ones on voter registration forms. But using fraud to get things on the ballot is still a crime and charging the people involved in this case with felonies is an attempt to send a message that this won’t be tolerated anymore. The nine people charged in this scheme face up to four years, and in a couple cases, up to six years in prison if they are convicted.