The District’s Board of Elections has swung back at allegations from activists pushing a ballot initiative to ban corporate campaign contributions, who said the board badly miscounted the number of signatures on their ballot petitions.
The activists, organized as the D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust, said in a court challenge filed last week that the board had undercounted the number of valid signatures by more than 3,000 — more than the difference between Initiative 70 making or not making the Nov. 6 ballot. But board lawyers said in a combative court filing that the activists are mistaken — the count was fine, and the initiative supporters simply did not understand the board’s tallying system.
What appears to be at issue is the board’s notation for indicating valid and invalid signatures — a system that includes check marks, “OKs” and various other codes. The activists tallied up all the the signatures bearing check marks and OKs, prompting the allegations of undercounting.
But, the board argues, “all [check-mark] symbols are not created equal” — there are red ones, from the first round of review, and green ones, from the second round of review. A valid signature is indicated by a red check or a green “OK” overriding a first-round challenge.
Problem is, the Public Trust activists were working with black-and-white printouts. That, said lead activist Bryan Weaver, is what they paid elections officials more than $200 to review, “and never once did they explain the color-coding.”
The board said the activists were given a manual “which outlines the Board’s petition verification procedures and discusses the use of multiple colors in the two-tier review process” in early July, and hence “should have known that they could not rely solely on the number of check marks on a black-and-white photocopy of the petition in order to determine how many signatures were deemed valid.”
Weaver said he never received a copy of the manual, though one might have gone to the group’s lawyers, and said the board’s registrar never mentioned the color-coding in numerous e-mails inquiring about the notation system.
The board, in the court filing, also argues that neither Weaver nor any other activists took the opportunity to monitor the evaluation and counting of the signatures while it was being done last month. This, board lawyers suggest, is “indicative of a relatively nonchalant attitude concerning the verification process (and the petition circulation process, generally).”
“I never got invited to come in,” Weaver countered. “I have no idea what they’re talking about.”
If the court refuses to order the board to put Initiative 70 on the ballot, the activists will have to start collecting approximately 23,300 valid signatures from scratch.
The board’s general counsel, Kenneth McGhie, declined to comment beyond the filing; a hearing in the case is set for Thursday.