Widespread Irregularities Seen in D.C. Slots Petitions
By Serge F. Kovaleski and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page A01
A petition drive to put the legalization of slot machines on the D.C. ballot is marred by widespread violations of local election laws, according to petition circulators, some of whom admit submitting forms filled with signatures they did not witness and with names copied out of the phone book.
Circulators who submitted hundreds of petitions used false addresses or could not be found at the places they claimed as their homes, including a vacant drug-treatment residence, a lunchtime soup kitchen and a correctional halfway house. Another circulator listed an address from which she had been evicted in April.
Some local residents who turned in dozens of additional forms said they only watched as paid workers from California, Michigan and elsewhere collected the signatures, a potential violation of a law requiring circulators to live in the District.
The Washington Post reviewed nearly 2,000 petitions bearing 31,394 of the more than 50,000 signatures submitted to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. Thousands of signatures appear to be invalid, primarily because the circulators lied about where they live, what they witnessed and who actually signed the names of D.C. voters.
Some people whose signatures identified them as circulators said they witnessed nothing at all. Darryl Bowman said he encountered out-of-town circulators when he entered a grocery store. Bowman, who described himself as a schizophrenic and an outpatient at St. Elizabeths Hospital, said the circulators paid him $40 to sign a stack of petition affidavits attesting that he was "in the presence" of each of the 547 people whose signatures filled the forms, front and back.
In fact, Bowman said in an interview, "I didn't see nothing. I just signed. . . . And they gave me the money."
On July 6, slots supporters submitted nearly three times the number of signatures needed to qualify for the Nov. 2 ballot, saying that at least the required number of 17,599 would prove to be valid. The elections board, which provided copies of the petitions to The Post, has until Aug. 5 to determine whether the slots initiative has met that goal.
If the initiative makes the ballot, voters will be asked to decide whether to authorize the installation of 3,500 slot machines on a 14-acre site at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast Washington.
The Post found that 10 of the most prolific circulators, who together submitted 7,451 signatures, do not live at the addresses they claimed as their homes, according to the residents of those addresses, neighbors and building owners. Dozens of other circulators could not be located through directory assistance and city records.
In addition, many signatures of voters and circulators appear to be forged. Three circulators admit faking signatures or watching as others did so. The names of two other circulators appear on many more petition forms than they recall signing. The signatures of some circulators appear to have been written by as many as four people.
Ordinarily, the D.C. election board does not investigate circulators, who sign affidavits on each petition form attesting that they live in the District and that the petition signatures are genuine. Circulators who lie could be fined up to $10,000 and sentenced to as much as a year in jail.
The board generally focuses on whether those who signed the petitions are registered voters. But community activists fighting the gambling initiative plan to file a legal challenge tomorrow questioning the qualifications of the circulators.
D.C. law says the petitions must be circulated by city residents. Election board spokesman Bill O'Field declined to comment on how the board would handle petitions submitted by circulators who cannot be found at addresses listed on the affidavits or who admit signing affidavits on petitions circulated by nonresidents.
Angelo Paparella, president of Progressive Campaigns Inc., the California company hired to manage the petition drive, said the election board should not throw out signatures simply because of "circulator problems." If circulators falsely signed affidavits, "they should be prosecuted," he said. "But if I am a registered voter and I am petitioning my government to have my voice heard to vote on this issue, that signature should be validated."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company