D.C. Council hopeful fights off candidacy challenge

A D.C. Council candidate seeking to decriminalize marijuana has successfully fought off an attempt to disqualify him from the ballot in the April 23 election.

The Board of Elections cleared the way on Monday for Paul Zukerberg, a Democrat in the citywide at-large council race, to appear on the ballot.

(Committee to Elect Paul Zukerberg) - D.C. Council candidate Paul Zukerberg (D)

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Zukerberg’s candidacy was verified after the board concluded he had collected the 3,000 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

A supporter of Democratic candidate Elissa Silverman had challenged Zukerberg’s signatures. The challenger, Michael Tacelosky, withdrew that protest Monday after it became clear it would not be successful.

In an interview, Zukerberg said he will immediately try to jump-start his campaign, which he said has been hampered by the uncertainty over his signatures.

“I am in the campaign and I am going to win this campaign but it’s going to take a miracle because Elissa Silverman got what she wanted,” Zukerberg said. “I have lost three weeks of campaign time … I’ve have to spend a fortune of money, and haven’t been soliciting donations because I didn’t feel it was right to ask someone for money and then the next day be thrown off the ballot.”

After his petition signatures were challenged, the board ruled that he had turned in hundreds of signatures that did not come from registered voters with current addresses.

But Zukerberg, an attorney who specializes in representing marijuana defendants, hired investigators to scour voter registration rolls to prove his signatures came from registered District voters.

In the process, Zukerberg said he discovered that the Board of Elections has not been properly updating its rolls, including failing to process 66,000 change-of-address forms.

“I literally had to have the entire the District of Columbia database rebuilt,” Zukerberg said. “I had to go through 66,000 signatures one by one in order to prove I was right, and the District of Columbia database is wrong.”

With his position on the ballot now secure, Zukerberg plans to argue that the D.C. Council has not been providing adequate oversight and funding for the elections boards. He also plans to use the controversy to take aim at Silverman, who he called a “hypocrite” for challenging his petitions.

Last year, Silverman helped organize the campaign to petition a referendum banning corporate contributions onto the ballot. But the elections board ruled that the Initiative 70 effort failed to collect enough valid signatures. Initiative 70 organizers are now suing the elections board, questioning the accuracy of its voter registration records.

“We don’t need another council member who thinks there is one set of rules for her and another for the rest of us,” Zukerberg said. “She is suing the elections board for flawed data, but now is trying to use the same flawed data.”

In an interview, Silverman stood by her challenge to Zukerberg’s candidacy, noting that the board ultimately ruled that hundreds of Zukerberg’s signatures were not valid.

“I have been pushing for reform of the Board of Elections for a while,” Silverman said. “I hope to work with Paul on this issue. … I want to get people’s attention focused on our voting rules and making sure voters’ voices are heard.”

In addition to Silverman and Zukerberg, incumbent Anita Bonds (D), Democrats Michael A. Brown and Matthew Frumin and Republican Patrick Mara are competing in the April 23 special election.

Another Democrat, John Settles, is also subject to a petition challenge. The elections board plans to rule late Monday on whether he qualifies for the ballot.

 
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