The D.C. elections board yesterday rejected the claim of D.C. delegate candidate Marie Dias Bembery that she was prevented from filing her petitions on time because the elections office closed a few minutes early, and refused to place her name on the ballot for the Sept. 14 primary.
The Board of Elections and Ethics also found that the name of Morris Harper, a candidate for mayor in the Democratic primary, could remain on the ballot although his petitions technically were filed after the 5 p.m. deadline July 7.
Board Chairman Albert J. Beveridge Jr. said in a brief statement following the decisions that the issue in Bembery's case was whether the board could employ discretion. The board's general counsel, William Lewis, advised the board that it could not.
After less than 15 minutes of deliberations, Beveridge announced the decision. "The vote was 2-1 not to accept her petitions," Beveridge said. "They were filed after 5 (p.m.) and we cannot accept them after that."
Bembery called the decision a "great tragedy" and said she will challenge the board's ruling in court. "Of course, I am personally disappointed by the board's decision," she said. "It's a grievous insult to the democratic process."
Despite the elections board's decision, Bembery, a Democrat, said, she will continue campaigning as a candidate to unseat incumbent Walter E. Fauntroy, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for a sixth term in office.
Testifying in Bembery's behalf, Fauntroy campaign director Guy Draper told the board that voters should be given a choice and argued against denying Bembery a spot on the ballot on a "slim, thin technicality."
He said Fauntroy prefers that Bembery remain in the race so that the democratic process is served.
Bembery and her lawyer maintained during the two-hour administrative hearing that the filing office, located in room 7 on the ground floor of the District Building, was closed before the 5 p.m. deadline.
There was uanimous agreement that Bembery was in the filing room on time with some of her petitions. What was in question was whether her campaign manager, Guy McComb, had delivered the remaining petitions on time.
Several witnesses, most of them board employes, said McComb ran up to the office door just as it was closing. When he tried to hand the petitions to Bembery, he was told it was too late. The petitions were handed back to him by an elections worker.
McComb told the board that by his watch the time was 4:58 p.m.--two minutes before the deadline. But the board was not convinced. Beveridge and board member Jeannine Clarke voted to remove Bembery from the ballot, with board member Virginia Moye voting in dissent.
The board voted unanimously to permit Harper to remain on the ballot after hearing testimony that an elections worker had given one of Harper's campaign aides incorrect information about how the petitions should be processed.
That advice, the board found, indirectly led Harper to file five minutes late.