SACRAMENTO — The secretary of state's office said Friday that it would investigate allegations that signature gatherers who were paid to sign up voters for the California Republican Party submitted registration forms containing fake names.
"If credible evidence of wrongdoing is found, we will work with local law enforcement to vigorously prosecute to the fullest extent of the law," Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said in a statement.
McPherson announced his investigation after the GOP said a routine screening of registration forms yielded some "questionable patterns."
"Together with the vendor, we figured out some kind of fraud was being perpetrated," said party spokesman Patrick Dorinson, referring to California Grassroots Mobilization, the party's principal voter-registration firm, based in Southern California.
The internal investigation found that several voter-registration workers from an unidentified Southern California subcontractor had falsified names in registration documents they submitted to party headquarters two weeks ago.
The subcontractor has since been fired, Dorinson said.
He would not say how many signature gatherers were implicated, only that it was "more than a couple and less than 15."
The party submitted its findings to McPherson on Thursday.
The latest investigation comes six months after San Bernardino County prosecutors announced a probe of more than 3,000 apparently fraudulent voter registration cards submitted to the state GOP.
In April, McPherson and Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer announced a related inquiry into allegations of voter registration fraud in Riverside and Orange counties.
Riverside County officials said they received voter-registration cards with problems that included missing driver's license or state identification numbers.
In Orange and San Bernardino counties, some residents complained that they were improperly registered as Republicans.
Some of the cards from Orange and San Bernardino counties were collected by Tom Bader and Associates, an Orange County petition-gathering firm whose contract with the GOP has since been terminated, said Adam Aleman, executive director of the San Bernardino County Republican Party.
The firm's president, Tom Bader, said he supported the inquiry.
"If anybody should be shown to commit a fraud, [the investigation] is a good thing," he said.
The apparent fraud prompted the state GOP to suspend a so-called bounty program under which it had paid private contractors $3 for each person they registered as a Republican, Aleman said.
The investigations in Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties are continuing, officials say.
State Democrats have their own bounty program in which volunteers affiliated with party clubs or committees are paid $4 per registration form.
Democratic Party officials say that, unlike the Republicans, their party has not been investigated for fraudulent forms, largely due to its policy not to work with private contractors.
"If you're going to use private vendors, you're going to run into these problems," said former state Sen. Art Torres, the California Democratic Party chairman.