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D.C. elections board to decide challenge to Brown’s nominating petitions

The D.C. Board of Elections is expected to decide later today whether D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown collected enough petition signatures from city voters to be on the ballot this November, a hotly contested issue that has put the race for two at-large council seats front-and-center among the city's fall campaigns.

As it stands Mr. Brown, at-large independent, has cleared the threshold for ballot access by 166 signatures even after a painstaking review threw out more than 1,500 submitted signatures, the board's registrar said at a hearing Monday morning.

The hearing allowed David Grosso — an independent running against Mr. Brown — and D.C. watchdog Dorothy Brizill to make their final arguments for why more of Mr. Brown's signatures should be invalidated. The challengers say the petition pages are fraught with mistakes, inconsistencies or outright forgery.

"Upholding the integrity of our electoral process is something I take very seriously," Mr. Grosso told the board. "We still think the Michael Brown campaign came up short in this effort."

The challenge by Mr. Grosso comes at a complex time for the Brown campaign, which also must file its Aug. 10 campaign finance report today. After Mr. Brown discovered unauthorized disbursements from the coffers in June, the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance allowed his campaign to put the report on hold while the campaign finance office reviewed the campaign's books. The campaign has accused a former longtime aide of misusing the funds, prompting Mr. Brown to take over as the campaign's treasurer.

Mr. Grosso is hoping to usurp Mr. Brown in the polls in the race for two at-large seats on the council. Incumbent Vincent B. Orange is widely expected to retain his seat as a Democrat, but Mr. Grosso and Republican challenger Mary Brooks Beatty are gunning for the minority-party slot occupied by Mr. Brown.

On Monday, elections board Chairman Deborah K. Nichols made it clear that Mr. Grosso and Ms. Brizill — joined by her husband, Gary Imhoff — must make succinct arguments that attempt to discredit blocks of Mr. Brown's signatures by citing a category of errors, such as forgery, illegibility or missing addresses and dates.

"We really can't, again, go through each of the signatures," Ms. Nichols said. "We would like to try to resolve this today."

Much of the hearing was dominated by quibbles and cross-claims between the challengers and the Brown campaign's attorney, Thorn L. Pozen. The hearing remained civil overall, despite the tension that simmered throughout the hearing as parties accused each other of half-truths and interrupting their allotted time to make their arguments to the board.

Mr. Grosso and Ms. Brizill used a projector to point out signatures on the Brown campaign's petition pages that seemed inconsistent and a woman's name that appeared to say "Muman" instead of "Numan." Later, they conceded the first letter might be an "N," but that does not explain why the master registry has the woman listed as "Newman."

"How do you misspell your own name?" Mr. Grosso said after the hearing. Ms. Brizill, meanwhile, alleged the instance was part of an election-board practice of hunting down a registered voter's name to fit the signature on petitions.

For the Brown campaign, Mr. Pozen said the real question before the board is whether a person is who they say they are, and there are "no extra points for penmanship." He said the Brown campaign would still meet the threshold for ballot access even if it conceded its opponents' arguments.

Barring a surprising ruling by the board, Mr. Brown is likely to appear on the November ballot because of the 3,166 valid signatures he has left after the exhaustive review by the board. Mr. Grosso was quick to point out the remainder is far fewer than the 4,676 the Brown campaign submitted before the challenges resulted in a review, although a Brown campaign spokesman, Asher Corson, argued the attrition is a normal part of the signature-gathering process for any candidate.

During the hearing, Ms. Brizill also accused the Brown campaign of being fraught with problems and bouncing checks to its paid staff.

Mr. Corson fiercely rejected the claim in an exchange with Ms. Brizill after the hearing, noting "no checks bounced since Michael Brown became treasurer of the campaign."

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