- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

Mayor Anthony A. Williams held a commanding lead in the early results of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics' count of the 81,837 write-in votes cast for mayor in Tuesday's primary election.

"We have started or completed counting 58 precincts so far, and I'm confident we will finish by Saturday and maybe even Friday at this pace," said Benjamin F. Wilson, chairman of the board.

Preliminary figures showed Mr. Williams far ahead with 17,299 votes to the Rev. Willie F. Wilson's 1,958 votes.

Yesterday's count, however, was dominated by results from wards that were considered strongholds for the incumbent.

The 32 precincts counted yesterday were in Wards 1, 2 and 3 with ballot counters just starting on Ward 4 an hour before closing time, said Bill O'Field, spokesman for the elections board.

Mr. Williams polled strongly in all four of those wards in the 1998 election.

Precincts in Wards 4, 5 and 6 are expected to be completed today, if the count continues to proceed at the current pace of more than four precincts per hour.

The total number of write-in votes could be higher, Mr. O'Field said because there were a number of votes cast by voters who did not fill in the space between the arrows on the city's new ballot. The new Optech Eagle voting machines can only read ballots with the pencil marks.

Mr. O'Field told The Washington Times in a previous interview that all write-in votes would be counted regardless of whether the arrows were filled in.

Elections board officials initially said it could take from seven to 10 days to count the ballots, but Mr. Wilson, who is not related to the mayoral candidate with the same last name, said the vast majority of the ballots were clear and legible, making the count "much easier" for workers.

The board enlisted the aid of 54 volunteer counters, with four in reserve, to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Counters were separated in 25 teams of two with five elections board staffers in the room acting as inspectors to deal with any questionable ballots.

Each candidate was allowed to have three watchers in the counting room, located at the board's headquarters on the second floor of One Judiciary Square in Northwest. Mr. Williams hired former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. yesterday to oversee the vote count on his behalf.

The board's executive director, Alice P. Miller, and D.C. registrar of voters Kathryn Fairley acted as on-the-spot arbiters for any challenges, Mr. O'Field said.

"We did have a few challenges today, but they were quickly resolved," Mr. Wilson said.

Mr. Holder, who declined requests from voters to run for mayor this year, actually received a few write-in votes himself. Other names written in included former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, actor and comedian Robin Williams, and Redskins coach Steve Spurrier.

In a surprising twist, it looked yesterday as if Mr. Williams could steal the Republican write-in nomination from D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican.

Several counters who were not allowed to talk to the press discussed among themselves the high number of instances where Mr. Williams' name appeared on Republican primary ballots.

One observer told The Washington Times that precinct 32 in Ward 3 tallied 1,030 Republican write-in votes for Mr. Williams compared with 12 for Mrs. Schwartz.

The Republican Party did not have a mayoral candidate on the ballot, but last week encouraged party members to write-in Mrs. Schwartz's name on the ballot.

Mr. Wilson said he would not speculate on the outcome of that race. But he did say Mr. Williams would not be allowed to accept a Republican nomination if he won.

"Nor would he want to," Mr. Wilson added.

One aspect of the counting process that disturbed Mr. Wilson was that his office was only allotted enough funding to pay poll workers $100 for their time.

"In the strongest manner possible we will request $100 per day for our workers. We could not do this without their volunteered time and effort."

Normally poll workers are paid anywhere from $100 to $175 depending on their job title to work all day on the primary and general election days and attend at least one training session.

"We did not expect this write-in effort and hand counts when we asked for the money at the start of the fiscal year," Mr. Wilson said.

Mayor Williams yesterday participated in two events in remembrance of September 11 during the day and two candlelight vigils last night.

Mr. Wilson also slowed his pace after a grueling day of last-minute campaigning for Tuesday's primary election.

The two write-in candidates, who both claimed victory Tuesday night, must now wait for the elections board to complete its count of all the ballots before a real winner can be declared.

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