- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics is expected to rule on a challenge today to the validity of 56,044 signatures collected in support of an initiative proposing a $500 million gambling hall in Northeast.

During closing arguments yesterday, supporters summarized nine days of testimony from witnesses who worked as paid circulators from July 2 to 6. The circulators said that in some cases they were instructed by initiative supporters to copy names out of telephone books and represent the initiative as a measure that would provide jobs, more funding for education and prescription-drug care for elderly residents.

Dorothy Brizill, of the government watchdog group DCWatch, urged the board to reject the petition drive based upon “evidence of systematic fraud and forgery,” not just upon her estimate of an inadequate number of signatures.

“The board has received ample evidence that the petition circulators, assistants and coaches systematically and regularly misrepresented [to signers] the content, purpose and intent of the initiative,” she said during the challengers’ closing arguments.

Supporters had not given closing arguments as of early last night. Last week, lawyer John Ray, a former D.C. Council member and chief lobbyist for the initiative, withdrew about 500 of 3,869 pages of signatures submitted to the three-member elections board.

The board must still decide what to do with hundreds of other petitions that have been challenged and with petitions collected by circulators who could not be found or did not respond to a subpoena to testify at the hearings.

During yesterday’s hearing, Terri Stroud, a staff lawyer with the elections board, testified that she had issued subpoenas for 103 circulators, though only 15 testified.

Miss Stroud said that 53 circulators could not be found at the addresses they provided and were not served. She also said 35 other circulators were served subpoenas, but did not show up for the hearings.

“They just did not respond to the subpoenas,” said Miss Stroud.

The Video Lottery Terminal Initiative of 2004 would authorize a complex with 3,500 video-lottery terminals, similar to slot machines, on New York Avenue between Montana Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast. The slots would generate revenues estimated at $765 million a year, with 25 percent paid to the District.

If the initiative survives the challenges, the board has until Thursday to decide whether supporters collected the minimum 17,599 valid signatures from registered D.C. voters required to put the issue on the ballot.

Arlin Budoo, an elections board staffer who served the subpoenas, testified about his attempts to serve the 53 persons who could not be found.

He said that many of the addresses — which circulators had to provide in case they had to testify — did not exist.

Several of the addresses were for abandoned houses or apartment buildings. In some cases, residents at given addresses said the circulator no longer lived there or addresses were homeless shelters or rehabilitation centers where employees could not vouch for the circulator, Mr. Budoo said.

On some occasions, circulators’ addresses were for residences in locked buildings, where he could not gain access, he said.

Mike Jones, a California man who supervised teams of circulators and who has been accused of paying D.C. residents to vouch for petition sheets circulated illegally by out-of-towners, submitted a written affidavit yesterday afternoon, but it was rejected after an objection by the challengers.

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