- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

The D.C. Court of Appeals yesterday set a Sept. 8 date for hearing arguments on whether thousands of petition signatures were rightfully eliminated from an initiative to build a $500 million gambling hall in Northeast.

The Citizens Committee for the Video Lottery Terminal Initiative is appealing a ruling last week by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, which found that the group legally obtained only 14,687 of the required 17,599 signatures to put the measure on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The elections board, which is the defendant in the appeal, is expected to issue a written ruling this week.

Attorney Ron Drake, who successfully challenged the legitimacy of the petitions during a 10-day hearing, has been granted intervenor status — meaning he is allowed to speak before a three-judge appellate panel as an interested party on behalf of the board.

Dorothy Brizill, who had filed a separate challenge on behalf of the government watchdog group DCWatch and the group D.C. Against Slots, plans to file for intervenor status today.

The court set a Wednesday deadline for slots supporters to submit a brief in the petitions case.

The elections board and the intervenors are required to submit briefs by Aug. 25.

Supporters will then have until Aug. 27 to file a reply.

In throwing out about 7,000 signatures collected from registered D.C. voters, the elections board said that Stars and Stripes USA Inc. — a Florida-based professional signature-gathering firm — repeatedly violated D.C. election laws in the unsuccessful slots petition drive.

Elections board Chairman Wilma A. Lewis said her panel concluded that the slots committee used 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.

John Ray, a former D.C. Council member and an attorney for the slots committee, filed a notice of review with the appeals court on Aug. 6.

Mr. Ray disputed the board’s ruling that Stars and Stripes instructed circulators to misrepresent the initiative by telling signers it would help fund education and provide prescription-drug benefits to the elderly.

He said he will have to wait until he reviews the written ruling before he determines the grounds for his appeal.

If the appeals court rules in favor of slots supporters, the initiative still could appear on the ballot.

However, based on precedent, it is unlikely the court would overturn the election board ruling.

In 2002, the court rejected arguments brought by Mayor Anthony A. Williams that the elections board exceeded its authority in forcing him off the Democratic primary ballot because of widespread forgeries in his re-election committee’s petition drive.

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