City officials have asked the district attorney's office to investigate the possibility of ballot fraud in the wake a March 5 municipal election in which a record number of questionable absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications were submitted.
City Clerk Joyce Herr said eight of 360 absentee ballots were disqualified because the signatures on the ballots did not match the signature on the application form. She said the disqualified ballots would not have changed the outcome of the election, in which Mayor G. Stanton Selby won reelection and the top two vote-getters in two council elections advanced to an April 16 runoff.
Herr added that an unspecified number of absentee ballot applications appeared to have been made by the same person, in violation of state law.
One Person Delivered
She said all but 12 of 785 absentee ballot applications received citywide were delivered to her office by one person. She declined to name the person, but expressed concern about the efforts of unidentified campaign workers to solicit absentee votes.
Herr said 125 applications were rejected, including three on which the signature did not match the signature on voter registration forms. She said 87 other applications were disqualified because there was no record of voter registration and 33 others were not allowed because the applicants were registered at addresses other than those listed on the application. In two cases, names on the applications differed from those on voter registration forms, she said.
"There is a possibility of someone other than the voter doing the voting," Herr said. "Looking through the applications caused me to suspect that not all the applications were from interested citizens who truly desired to vote."
Herr said the number of questionable absentee ballots and applications was the highest in city history.
Ballot Review Begun
Deputy Dist. Atty. Candace Beason said her office has begun a review of the ballots. Beason said she does not know how long the review will take, or whether her office will pursue a formal investigation.
Beason was one of two members of the district attorney's special investigation division to attend the ballot opening at City Hall before the polls closed on March 5. Herr said at the time that she had asked the officials to oversee the opening of the absentee ballots.
Raul Gutierrez, the other special investigator, said forgery can be considered a felony or a misdemeanor at the discretion of the prosecutor.
In a post-election report to Selby, Herr said her office disqualified 39 ballots--eight because signatures on the ballot envelopes did not match those on ballot applications, 24 because they were received too late to be counted, one because it was not signed and six others because they were returned unopened when the Post Office was unable to deliver them.
Called Dangerous Trend
Herr said the high number of absentee applications received this year and campaign workers' solicitation of them represents a dangerous trend.
Since state laws governing absentee ballots were "liberalized" in 1978, she said, it has become much easier to submit absentee ballot applications because voters no longer are required to state a reason for not voting in person. She also bemoaned the loss of the "positive purge," or the elimination of names from the roster of registered voters without notice if they did not vote in the most recent election. This, she said, permits the names of people who have died or moved away to remain on the roster.
The runoff candidates will be Tomas Ursua and Donna Smith in District 3, and incumbent Jay Gaulding will face Joe Smith in District 2.