D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown can compete in the Nov. 6 election

September 10, 2012

D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown can compete in the Nov. 6 election, narrowly surviving a challenge to his ballot petition, the D.C. Board of Elections ruled Monday.

Brown, an independent, made the ballot with 3,166 valid signatures, barely meeting the threshold of 3,000 registered voters. The narrow victory, however, underscores the Brown campaign’s shaky start, which includes his assertion that someone stole a substantial amount of money from his campaign account.

The board’s ruling caps a three-week investigation into the integrity of Brown’s signature-gathering effort, an often-grueling process that candidates must undergo to qualify for District elections.

After Brown submitted 4,175 signatures last month, Independent council candidate David Grosso, city activist Dorothy Brizill and Brizill’s husband, Gary Imhoff, challenged the petitions. They alleged that many of the signatures on Brown’s petition did not match official voter registration rolls. Brizill also alleged that hundreds of signatures may have been forged.

The Brown campaign denied any wrongdoing, calling the fraud allegations defamatory.

“My opponent intentionally wasted the time and resources of District taxpayers to advance his political ambitions,” Brown said in a statement. “This gamesmanship and shameless attempt to disenfranchise voters represents the most unethical kind of dirty politics.”

Grosso, a Brookland lawyer challenging Brown, said it was his civic duty to point out irregularities in Brown’s petitions. “To call this a waste of time shows a tremendous lack of respect for the integrity of elections,” Grosso said.

During its review, the Board of Elections tossed more than 1,500 of Brown’s signatures as duplicative, from unregistered voters or from residents whose addresses could not be verified.

At the hearing Monday, Grosso and Brizill urged the three-member board to continue its investigation, arguing that dozens of signatures had been accepted as valid even though the handwriting or printed name did not match other official records.

During her testimony, Brizill showed the board several signatures from one resident whose name appeared multiple times on the petitions with what she argued was a different signature. In another instance, Brizill noted that one signer appeared to print and sign the last name name as Muman, even though the actual last name of a registered voter at the same address is Newman.

“You might be able to say the M is an N, but that is clearly a U and not an E,” Brizill said.

Brown’s attorney, Thorn Pozen, said the challenge represented a “real waste of the board’s time.”

“It’s not for the board to decide if it’s legible or illegible if the board can figure it out based on addresses and other things,” Pozen said. “The bottom line, campaign rules don’t give extra points for penmanship.”

With elections officials rushing to set the November ballot, board officials said Monday they had to bring the review to a close. They also denied a request from Brizill that the board subpoena Brown staffers to testify about how they gathered the signatures.

“We will not engage in recriminations of every signature as admittedly, we would never bring this matter to a conclusion,” said Board Chairman Deborah Nichols, who said that staffers had already spent dozens of hours reviewing Brown’s petitions.

The squabbling represented another distraction for Brown as he tries to jump-start his reelection campaign amid continued questions about his finances and potential voter backlash over ethics controversies in the John A. Wilson Building.

In addition to Grosso, Republican Mary Brooks Beatty and Green Party candidate Ann C. Wilcox are vying for the seat.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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