June 28, 2013 Updated: June 28, 2013 at 6:04 pm
A citizens group charged Friday that 50 signatures on recall petitions aimed at Sen. John Morse are fraudulent - including a signature from a woman who has been dead for two years.
Instead of issuing a denial, the leader of the group that initiated the recall against Morse, said any evidence of fraud should be investigated and if appropriate, charges should be filed against any petition circulator who violated election law.
But if the effort loses 50 signatures it still would have more than enough to force a recall election in coming weeks.
A Whole Lot of People for John Morse held a news conference Friday afternoon to announce the group found 50 of the 10,137 signatures verified by the secretary of state last week are "forged." They need to discount 2,908 more signatures if they are to show it has fewer than the 7,178 needed to hold a recall election in Senate District 11, but hope less than that are necessary to inspire the secretary of state to investigate the issue.
Jennifer Kerns, spokesperson for Basic Freedom Defense Fund, the organization leading the recall effort, said, "If there does turn out to be a case of fraud, we will join them in asking that this be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Even if it just involved just 50 signatures."
Morse supporters retrieved a copy of the petition when it was verified June 18 and have since been calling phone numbers and knocking on doors listed on the petition. A few who received the calls used social media to object to the tactic.
Christy Le Lait, campaign manager at A Whole Lot of People, said the group has been asking petition signers if they are familiar with the petition and intended to put their name on it. Most respond with hostility, Le Lait said, but some have responded with confusion over why their names are on the petition.
"We let them know they can take their signature off," Le Lait said.
Le Lait said she was saddened last week when the group approached a man living in one of the addresses listed on the petition.
"He couldn't understand why we would think that his wife's signature was on the petition because she passed away two years ago," Le Lait said.
The group worked through 500 names in 11 days, Le Lait added.
Challenging the validity of the signatures is Morse supporters' second attempt to thwart the recall. A hearing was held Thursday to address one constituent's protest to the legality of the petition's language. A decision on that protest will likely come July 3, the last day to contest the petition.
Kerns said that the two sides may seek El Paso County District Attorney Dan May's input to see if a criminal investigation is warranted. May could not be reached Friday.
Other petitions have been thrown out in southern Colorado because fraudulent signatures. Petitions were circulated in Pueblo in 1960 and 1982 to allow casinos into the area. In both cases, more than enough signatures were submitted to the state, but the efforts were derailed by a large number of forgeries.
The leader of the 1982 casino petition was arrested on felony and misdemeanor charges for filing fraudulent petitions.
In Colorado Springs, questionable signatures are linked to one gatherer, Kerns said, and similar charges will "definitely" be brought against that unnamed person if the signatures are proven to be fraudulent.