The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics began an investigation yesterday of a charge that three elderly Northeast Washington women were kept from voting Nov. 3 by someone who took their identification cards into a polling place and may have fraudulently cast ballots intended for them.
The charge was made by one of the women, Velma S. Curry, 66, in a letter to the elections board. She said the incident occurred when she and two other women, aged 72 and 83, arrived aboard a church-operated bus outside the polling place at Noyes School, 10th and Franklin streets NE. She said they had arranged in advance, because of infirmities, for the ballot-punching devices to be brought to the bus, where the votes would be cast.
Soon after their arrival, Curry alleged, a woman who subsequently identified herself as a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C who was running for reelection in a contested race, took the identification cards into the polling place. Curry said that the woman later returned to the bus and gave them ballot stubs indicating votes had been cast.
When Curry protested that she did not get a chance to vote, she said the woman replied, "I voted for who you wanted to vote for." Curry said the woman identified herself only after someone on the bus asked who she was.
Also on the ballot that day were school board candidates and a hotly contested education tax credit proposal.
William H. Lewis, general counsel of the elections board, said he sent certified letters late yesterday to Virginia L. Matthews and to Louise Madden, precinct captain for the board, seeking information on the incident. Lewis said Matthews had been identified to him as the person involved in the incident.
Matthews could not be reached yesterday. Patricia Bernard, secretary to the ANC, said she would relay a reporter's telephoned request for comment, but there was no response.
If infractions of the law are found, Lewis said he would refer the case to the U.S. attorney's office for possible prosecution.
Violations of the D.C. election law, including the casting of an improper ballot or the casting of multiple ballots, may be punished by jail terms up to 90 days and fines of $500.
Lewis stressed that no accusation has been made against Madden, the precinct captain, who had overall supervision of the balloting.
The three would-be voters involved in the incident live in Edgewood Terrace, an apartment development in the ANC district represented by Matthews, who defeated challenger Gloria K. Herbert, 90 votes to 65.
In another election development, City Council member William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5), chairman of the council's Government Operations Committee, said the panel will hire a special counsel to investigate the array of problems that beset the Nov. 3 balloting. The counsel will have power to subpoena officials to a hearing tentatively set for Dec. 9.