Ronald Cain, Beverly Cain and Arleen Williams Pitcher say they didn’t sign the St. George incorporation petition. But someone signed that petition pretending to be them.
The names of all three with their current addresses, birthdays and voting precincts are listed on the petition, along with signatures they say aren’t theirs. Two different witnesses signed the petition next to the signatures, attesting that they watched as those three individuals signed.
But Ronald Cain doesn’t even support St. George. And his wife, Beverly Cain, was in Texas on June 9, the day the petition indicates she signed. Pitcher, meanwhile, not only doesn’t support the incorporation effort but is an advocate for keeping the parish together.
Opponents of the proposed city effort say the forged signatures on the petition are indicative of underhanded tactics to push St. George to a vote. But Lionel Rainey, a St. George spokesman, said these are isolated incidents and leaders behind the city movement are just as furious to learn about the forgeries.
“Although these three signatures are an isolated incident — one one-hundredth of 1 percent of total signatures obtained — this behavior is contrary to the principles of our organization and is something we will simply not tolerate,” he said.
The group has identified the rogue volunteers who forged the signatures, Rainey said, and plans to “take every legal course of action available to us against them.”
Daniel Redmann, an attorney representing St. George leaders, said the group is still evaluating its options and has not yet contacted law enforcement or any investigating agencies.
Rainey also noted that the signatures were invalidated by the Registrar of Voters Office, showing the system in place is working and that there was never any risk the forged signatures would be counted.
But Better Together, a grassroots group that opposes the St. George incorporation, said it believes the three forgeries are the tip of the iceberg, based on its own review of the petition and feedback from people it has contacted.
Earlier this month, Better Together sent a mailer to every person whose name appeared on the St. George petition, asking them to consider withdrawing their signatures.
Ronald Cain said this raised an alarm for him, because he knew he’d never signed. At that point, he called the Registrar’s Office, which later confirmed his name and his wife’s name appeared on the petition. But he was informed their names were tossed because the signatures on the petition didn’t match their signatures on other voter records.
Cain, who formerly worked for the state investigating fraud, said this hits close to home.
“Someone used my name fraudulently. Someone using my name for this is no different than someone messing with my credit rating,” he said. “To me, this had to be someone from St. George.”
He said he’d like to see legal action taken against the person who forged his signature.
According to a copy of the petition, obtained in a public record request by The Advocate, Kristain LaPointe is listed as the witness. A phone number could not be identified for LaPointe on Thursday.
At least nine signatures on the petition that were witnessed by LaPointe were crossed out by St. George organizers before they were submitted to the Registrar’s Office. The names were all written in a similar handwriting.
Rainey said organizers went through and crossed out names they believed to be suspicious before the petition was submitted.
Pitcher also said she was alarmed when she received the mailer informing her that her name appeared on the petition.
“I consider myself an advocate to keep the city together. I was totally in shock when I saw that my name was on the petition,” she said. “This leads me to believe they’re doing something underhandedly, that they’re doing something illegal.”
Someone signed Pitcher’s name on the petition on April 23. The witness was Karen Neal, who could not be reached by phone on Thursday evening.
M.E. Cormier, a Better Together leader who led an effort to review the signatures on the St. George petition that they received in a records request, said she has concerns about the many signatures on the petition that were witnessed by Neal.
Earlier this month, the group said St. George would be short by more than 2,000 signatures. They reported that 18 percent of the names on the petition would be invalidated because they were either not registered voters or because they were duplicate names. The Registrar’s Office said it will be finished validating the petition next week but reported it is nearly done and also has found that 18 percent of signatures were invalidated.
Cormier said 348 signatures that her group determined to be invalid were witnessed by Neal. Neal witnessed about 750 signatures.
Registrar Elaine Lamb did not return a phone call Thursday.
Mary Olive Pierson, an attorney representing the city-parish government in St. George issues, called the forgeries disturbing.
“Did we get someone who signed for a voter here and there and yonder, hoping that maybe they wouldn’t catch it? Is there an intentional effort to boost signatures?” Pierson asked. “At some point, it could invalidate the whole effort. It calls the whole thing into question for me.”
Pierson also noted that filing or maintaining false public records is a felony.
Rainey has previously suggested in interviews he was concerned that opponents of the city were purposefully signing the petition in an effort to later try to discredit it.
On Thursday, he said he is confident that “less than a handful” of these signatures would be identified as forgeries. He also said no one identified as connected to the forgeries was considered a core volunteer.
“We’ve done our best to make sure everything was above board,” he said.
St. George organizers need about 18,000 signatures on the petition, which is about 25 percent of the registered voters in the proposed city. If the Registrar’s Office determines they’ve met the mark, the petition could move forward to an election.
If it falls short, the group has 60 days to make up the difference.
The city of St. George would encompass about 100,000 people in the southern part of East Baton Rouge Parish. Advocates support the measure for control of local taxes and because it would help them move forward with an independent school system. Opponents are concerned about the financial impact to the parish at large.