The D.C. Board of Elections ruled Monday that D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown collected enough petition signatures from city voters to appear on the ballot in November, despite dual challenges from one of his opponents in the at-large race and a city government watchdog.
Mr. Brown, at-large independent, cleared the 3,000-signature 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 board dismissed challenges from Brookland resident David Grosso — an independent candidate running against Mr. Brown — and D.C. Watch operator Dorothy Brizill after the pair made their final arguments for why more of Mr. Brown's signatures should be invalidated. The two-page order dismissing the challenges will be followed up in the next two days with an opinion that explains the board's decision.
"The Board's decision today confirms what my campaign has been saying all along: the petition challenge had no merit and was made by my opponent in bad faith," Mr. Brown said in a statement through his campaign. The challenges, he added, "wasted the time and resources of District taxpayers to advance his political ambitions."
For weeks, Mr. Grosso and Ms. Brizill insisted the Brown campaign's 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 Monday. "We still think the Michael Brown campaign came up short in this effort."
The challenge arrived at a complex time for the Brown campaign, which also had to file its Aug. 10 campaign finance report by midnight Monday. 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 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 beat 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 — had to 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 with the parties accusing 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 Mr. Brown would still meet the threshold for ballot access even if they conceded the challengers' arguments.
Mr. Grosso was quick to point out the 3,166 signatures that remained for Mr. Brown is far fewer than the 4,676 the campaign submitted before the challenges resulted in a review. A Brown campaign spokesman, L. Asher Corson, argued the attrition is a normal part of the signature-gathering process for any candidate.
Even before the board's ruling, Mr. Grosso appeared resigned to the fact Mr. Brown will be his opponent in November.
"We're going to continue to outwork him," he said.
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