Democratic candidate for State Representative Ed Gainey called for a criminal investigation to be opened against his rival and 24th District incumbent Joe Preston, whose campaign is accused of forging 90 signatures on its nominating petitions.
"This is problematic for two reasons," Gainey said. "It's criminal. … And it continues to demonstrate that Mr. Preston is out of touch with the voters."
Preston, whose district includes parts of Homewood, Wilkinsburg, and East Liberty, did not return calls for comment.
State Representative candidates need at least 300 signatures on nominating petitions to appear on the ballot. Preston, who has been in office since 1983, initially submitted 806 signatures but withdrew several petitions after Gainey challenged in court that they were forged or otherwise ineligible. Preston kept his name on the ballot by a slim margin, with 308 valid names.
Gainey said his campaign submitted 811 signatures, none of which have been challenged.
To validate Preston's signatures, Gainey campaign staff consulted a handwriting expert and went door-to-door to talk to the residents directly.
"If you go through the addresses of the 90 signatures and you go door-to-door, you'll see a number of abandoned houses, boarded-up houses, where apparently nobody has lived for quite some time," campaign consultant Matt Merriman-Preston (no relation) said. "It appeared to be a blatant forgery to me and to our handwriting expert."
Of the 90 names in question, 16 have signed affidavits swearing their signatures were forged and one was deceased at the time the petition was signed, acording to Gainey.
Carol Lewis, who signed an affidavit, said she is precluded from signing any nominating petitions due to her job in the Allegheny County court system. "I was a little angry because my name was forged on there. I have not actually met with Mr. Preston in my neighborhood to talk about running for State Rep," she said.
Gainey said authorities at the Allegheny County Department of Elections received the information and should look into the matter further. He has not yet heard back from the County nor from Preston regarding his calls for an investigation.
On March 19, Gainey also challenged signatures presented by the two other Democratic candidates, William Anderson and Todd Elliott Koger, leaving each without sufficient names to continue. No Republican candidate filed petitions.