State and county officials believe more than 5,000 voter signatures where forged by an Oklahoma woman hired to collect names for a term-limitation petition.
"All the signatures she turned in were forged," said Lt. Gov. Olene Walker. "They're absolutely fraudulent. We've found that in all cases."Walker said the woman, identified only as Patsy Fisher from Oklahoma, submitted petitions from Davis, Morgan, Juab, Salt Lake and Utah counties.
Merrill Cook, founder of the Utah Independent Party, organized the term limitation drive in Utah in an effort to get the initiative on the November general election ballot.
He said he did not know the woman, who was in Utah for about three weeks and was paid more than $2,000 for the signatures she submitted.
Cook said Fisher had worked with people from U.S. Term Limits, a national group.
"I never really knew Patsy Fisher," he said. "The U.S. Term Limits people came in to help us and they knew her. She had worked with them in two other states."
Cook said he has collected far more than the approximately 76,000 signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot.
The initiative would limit local elected officials, legislators and U.S. House members to eight consecutive years in office and U.S. senators to 12 years. It also would provide for runoff elections in races in which no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote.
Walker said officials in each county will have to decide whether to prosecute the woman.
"We don't have the authority, and it's really a county function," she said. "I think it should be pursued in all five counties."
Clerks are now reassessing the signatures on the petitions after Walker met with them last Wednesday to discuss a case of fraud in Salt Lake County.
She has asked all 29 counties to report back by Aug. 29 on the validity of their petitions. Then a decision will be made on whether Cook has enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot.