Turnover at Top Of Election Board

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has twice changed the leadership of the troubled D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, recently installing a fellow Howard Law School graduate as chairman over objections from a D.C. Council member and community activists.

Errol R. Arthur, a lawyer in private practice, took over as chairman in June. The agency's longtime director, Alice P. Miller, resigned at the same time, meaning the two top positions turned over almost simultaneously. The board's management and Fenty's handling of the agency have come under scrutiny after Tuesday's primary elections, in which a significant overcounting of votes led to confusion about the results.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) has promised a review aimed at identifying and correcting any problems before the general election in November.

"When you're conducting an election like this, everything has to go perfectly, and this one did not," Gray said yesterday. "The council has an obligation to find out why and introduce the fixes."

The three-member election board is a quasi-independent agency whose chairman is appointed by the mayor. In May 2007, Fenty forced the resignation of Wilma A. Lewis, who had been appointed by former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). Fenty replaced her with fellow board member Charles R. Lowery Jr.

In February, the board came under heavy criticism after several polling sites ran out of ballots for the presidential primaries. In March, Fenty appointed Arthur to the board, and he elevated him to chairman two months later.

The move angered council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who warned that the mayor was risking stability. Arthur had attended a single meeting as a member before becoming chairman. When Miller, the longtime agency director, resigned to join a federal election commission, one of her deputies, Sylvia Goldsberry-Adams, took over daily operations.

"I would think that the mayor would be more concerned about stabilizing this agency and its board rather than further upsetting the apple cart," Schwartz said in June.

Schwartz was defeated by Patrick Mara in the Republican primary Tuesday.

Arthur and his wife, Sherri Beatty-Arthur, live in Ward 4, as does Fenty. They contributed several hundred dollars to his mayoral campaign. Fenty named Beatty-Arthur to serve on the board of the Office of Employee Appeals.

During a council committee hearing on Arthur's appointment to the board in March, two community activists, Dorothy Brizill and Carol Waser, complained that little was known about him and that he appeared unqualified for the job.

Under questioning from Schwartz, Arthur said his legal training had prepared him to preside over ballot challenges and campaign finance issues.

"My legal expertise is my strongest attribute, as well as my judgment and my education," he said, and he pledged to increase voter turnout and to fix the problems that led to the ballot shortage in February.

Waser, who works on voter protection issues nationally and locally, said yesterday that Arthur has "brought energy to the job." But she said the board does most of its work in private and rarely seeks the views of residents or outside experts.

The board met in private for several hours yesterday and released a statement attributing the mishap Tuesday to a faulty part in a voting machine. Arthur did not talk to reporters.

"Both the board and Sequoia Voting Systems are currently conducting comprehensive reviews into how the cartridge reading occurred," he said in a statement. "We will continue to work with them to identify how to prevent this issue in future elections."

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