Joe Isom went to the District Building, Washington's city hall, Jan. 3 and was sworn in as a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, representing his district east of Capitol Hill.
Now Isom has a problem. He is serving as a member of ANC 6A with the full support of his fellow members - but the D.C. Board of Elections insists he wasn't elected at all.
In the Nov. 8 election, the board has ruled, Isom was defeated by George Gurley. But, according to the board, Gurley is not qualified to occupy the seat because he was elected to another seat on the same ANC, for which he is fully qualified.
If you are confused by all this, it would not be surprising. Almost everybody else is, too. It is now more than two months since the election, and city officials still are trying to figure out who, if anybody, won about 65 of the 367 seats on the 36 ANCs.
The ANCs are Washington's experiment with grass-roots government, giving elected citizens the power to review municipal projects and programs before they are put into effect by the government.
Isom's situation may be resolved more easily than most of the others. The board of elections agreed last week to conduct a formal review of the vote, in which Isom got 2 votes to Gurley's 9.
Philip Ogilive, a member of ANC 6A, asked for the review after telling the board there was much confusion at the polling place, with many voters being given the wrong information about the ANC district in which they lived.
Hence many persons voted for a candidate from an adjacent area, not their own, Ogilvie said. Gurley lives in a district adjacent to Isom's, but within the same voting precinct.
Shari B. Kharasch, chairman of the elections board, said all the problems in selecting ANC winners resulted from write-in votes. There were no candidates' names on the ballots in 118 of the 367 ANC districts, she said. Many write-in candidates who were the top vote-getters turned out to be unqualified, in most cases because they live outside the districts they were elected to represent.
Isom, a 32-year-old sociology student at the University of the District of Columbia and a staff sergeant in the D.C. National Guard, discovered shortly before the election that there was no candidate for the district where he lives.
So Isom decided to write in his own name, and convinced a friend to do the same. That gave him two votes.
Gurley's name, by contrast, was printed on the ballot, in the district next to Isom's, and Gurley won that race handily. But some people in Isom's district thought they were in Gurley's district and wrote Gurley's name on their ballots. That gave Gurley five votes - in Isom's district.
At first, the board of elections regarded Gurley as legally unqualified for the seat Isom sought. Isom said the board of elections sent him a letter telling him he was elected. Isom went to the District Building and filed papers certifying that he was willing and able to serve.
Soon afterward, the board of elections - acting on a legal opinion from its general counsel - decided that only the highest vote geter in any ANC contest should be certified. If the highest vote getter was not qualified, the seat would be regarded as vacant. In no case could the No. 2 candidates be certified.
Isom said nobody told him, so he showed up Jan. 3 for the mass swearing-in ceremony for ANC members.
With the assistance of Jan Eichhorn, an active ANC member from the Capitol Hill southeast area, and city council member Nadine Winter (D-Ward 6), Isom was permitted to take the oath of membership. But he did not get a certificate of election.
Before the swearing-in, Isom spent $14 to duplicate and distribute letters to his presumed constituents, and he showed up at ANC meetings where he was welcomed by the other members and permitted to participate.
Ogilvie, the ANC 6A spokesman who appeared before the board of elections, said his fellow members would choose Isom for membership if they were given the legal power to fill the seat officially.
Isom said he looks forward to being seated officially. "There are so many things that need to be done, to be improved," Isom said. "This is a part of my life now."
A Washington native and a graduate of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Isom is an active member of the Bible Way Church. He lives at 26 14th St. NE, in a predominantly black area of row houses.
Kharasch, the elections board chairman, said the board may seek a way to declare other unfilled seats vacant in a manner that would legally permit them to be filled through an appointive process.
Unless a legal obstacle in the District law can be overcome, the seats unfilled in the Novermber election would remain vacant until the next citywide ANC election in 1979.
At least one ANC - 6B, which represents the Capitol Hill southeast area - adopted a resolution chastising the board of elections for its ruling that the second-highest vote getter cannot be certified as a winner. The resolution also suggested that citywide task force be established to set new and less confusing procedures for future ANC elections.