D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has blocked a council bill that would have made it a crime to pay people to vote, according to council staffers.
Last month, the council overwhelmingly approved a bill by council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) that would have enshrined in the local code the federal prohibitions against paying someone to vote or register to vote, or accepting payment to vote or register to vote. It also made it a crime to use a false name to register to vote. Violators could be fined as much as $10,000 and face five years in prison.
But Fenty friend and strategist Ronald Moten lobbied the mayor to veto the bill. Moten worried that the council, led by Fenty rival Vincent C. Gray (D) was trying to quash the mayor's go-go concerts designed to get low-income African American residents registered to vote.
According to council staffers, Fenty blocked the legislation through a pocket veto. Under Home Rule, the mayor has the option of signing, vetoing or taking no action on a bill approved by the council. If the council is in session and the mayor refuses to sign a bill, it automatically becomes law. If the council is in recess, however, a bill that is not signed by the mayor does not become law.
Fenty's staff confirmed the pocket veto.
In this case, the council was on summer recess when Fenty failed to take action on Cheh's bill, according to Cheh staffers. That move effectively kills the bill unless the council wants to reconvene to pass another version of it. The council is scheduled to be on recess until mid September.
In an interview, Moten stressed Fenty's pocket veto does not mean he condones vote-buying. "He believes people who pay people to vote should be locked up, and I agree too," said Moten. But Gray and Cheh clearly passed a bill that was not clear on what the rules are and they did this at the last minute of a tight election, which is troubling."
Moten noted numerous local candidates - including Gray - hold events where they offer free food to try to get residents registered to vote. Some candidates have also traditionally offered senior citizens free food on Election Day.
But Mo Elleithee, a Gray strategist, blasted the mayor's decision.
"The bill says, in the most simple of terms, you can't buy someone's vote," Elleithee said. "The fact that the mayor wouldn't sign it speaks volumes. We knew that he had no problem bringing pay-to-play politics to the mayor's office. Now it appears he has no problem bringing it to the ballot box."