Skid Row voter fraud: Prosecutors say homeless offered cash, cigarettes in exchange for hundreds of signatures

An alleged voter fraud scheme in which Skid Row’s homeless were being offered money and cigarettes in exchange for “false and forged signatures” on ballot petitions and registration documents has been uncovered in Los Angeles, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office says it is charging nine people in total with felony counts related to the offenses, which are said to have happened during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles.

“The defendants are accused of engaging in the solicitation of hundreds of false and/or forged signatures on state ballot petitions and voter registration forms by allegedly offering homeless people $1 and/or cigarettes for their participation,” a statement from the attorney’s office reads.

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The charges, it added, include “circulating a petition with false names; use of false names on a petition; voter fraud, registering a fictitious person; and voter fraud, registering a nonexistent person.”

Some of the nine charged were identified as Kirkland Kauzava Washington, Harold Bennett, and Louis Thomas Wise – who are each facing eight counts. The others: Richard Howard, Rose Makeda Sweeney, Christopher Joseph Williams, Jakara Fati Mardis, Norman Hall and Nickey Demelvin Huntley, are each facing four counts. Their ages range from 28 to 62, and each could end up having to serve a maximum of around five to six years in prison if convicted.

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The attorney’s office says prosecutors have recommended their bail be set at $25,000 each.

The charges are part of a larger-scale crackdown on voter fraud that the Los Angeles Police Department has been undertaking this year.

Some of the petitions in which false signatures are alleged to have been collected for include proposals on an oversight commission for the sheriff's department, and other matters relating to clean water and air, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Police told the newspaper that the signature gatherers do not appear to be politically-motivated -- they are just trying to make a buck.