- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics yesterday declined to investigate charges that petitioners are collecting signatures illegally for an initiative that would legalize slot machines in the District.

Community activists Dorothy Brizill and Ronald Drake told the board that they have seen petition circulators gathering signatures without proper supervision.

“We had observed out-of-town nonresidents circulating and gathering signatures alone, without being accompanied by a D.C. resident,” Mrs. Brizill said. “When out-of-town, nonresident circulators have been accompanied by a D.C. resident, the resident has been 50 to 60 feet away — in one instance more than a block away — completely unable to hear the conversation between the out-of-town circulator and potential signer of the petition.”

Mr. Drake said he has seen nonresidents gathering signatures without a resident present on at least five occasions.

D.C. election law requires petition circulators to be city residents or be supervised by a resident when signatures are collected.

Mrs. Brizill and Mr. Drake asked the board to send employees from its office or another city agency to observe the group’s canvassing methods.

Board Chairman Wilma A. Lewis declined, saying her panel cannot investigate any petition complaints until after the signatures have been submitted.

“We think that in the final analysis what is problematic here is the issue of when a violation occurs,” said Miss Lewis, a former federal attorney for the District. “A violation occurs when a petition with signatures is submitted to the board that are gathered in violation. The board’s actions in this regard are triggered by the submission of a petition with signatures gathered in violation of the laws.”

The slots petition must be submitted to the elections board by Monday evening.

Jeffrey D. Robinson, an attorney for the slots promoters, said, “The signatures are being gathered in compliance with the law, and we are perfectly prepared to defend that.”

Mr. Robinson said the petition circulators are paid $2 per signature and have been trained in the proper procedure. He said the board is welcome to observe their methods.

“If the board of elections wants to send people out, that’s perfectly fine with us,” he said. “If it’s their view that that’s not what they want, that’s fine too. We do not care either way.”

The Video Lottery Terminal Gambling Initiative of 2006 would legalize devices similar to slot machines near Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue Southeast.

The petition effort, financed by U.S. Virgin Island gambling promoter Shawn A. Scott, requires more than 18,000 valid signatures for the initiative to be placed on the ballot.

The elections board killed a similar effort in 2004 after a phony signature and several false declarations of residence were found among the petitions.

Mr. Scott was the chief financial backer of that effort, and the group that circulated the petitions was fined more than $622,000 for violations of election law.

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