- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics is tallying the costs associated with its review of more than 56,000 signatures collected in support of an initiative proposing a $500 million gambling hall in Northeast, the board said yesterday.

Bill O’Field, a spokesman for the board, said overtime costs were extensive due to the large volume of signatures submitted and the 10-day hearing convened to challenge the signature-collection process.

“We’ve never had anything this large that we had to take so much time with,” he said. “This is something totally different.”

It is not clear whether the cost of the verification process will be figured into penalties and fines expected to be assessed against supporters of the initiative. Supporters turned in just 14,587 legally gathered signatures out of the 17,599 required to put the measure on the November ballot.

Mr. O’Field said the board would not recoup any of the costs of the investigation by imposing penalties since the money collected from fines goes to the city’s general fund and not to the elections board.

Wilma A. Lewis, chairman of the elections board, said the board has not scheduled meetings to discuss potential fines against slots supporters or whether the case will be forwarded to prosecutors.

In an oral ruling delivered last week, Mrs. Lewis said the board concluded that the citizens committee used of out-of-town circulators to collect signatures instead of simply assisting D.C. collectors, employed circulators who forged signatures, misrepresented the substance of the initiative to signers, and failed to exercise oversight of circulators.

Under D.C. election laws, a person or group that makes false statements to those signing petitions, signs a petition with someone else’s name, or makes a false statement about his or her own residency can be fined up to $10,000 or serve up to a year in jail.

The elections board is compiling a final written report on its rejection of the slots initiative. The report should be released this week and its findings are expected to be the basis for a filing in the D.C. Court of Appeals.

John Ray, a former D.C. Council member and the attorney for the Citizens Committee for the Video Lottery Terminal Initiative, filed a notice of appeal Friday, but said he would have to review the written report to determine the grounds for his appeal.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said Monday he is crafting legislation that would outlaw the video-lottery terminals that were proposed for the gambling hall and also would address the problem of initiative backers and candidates overwhelming the elections board with signatures.

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