One element of the D.C. elections board's plan to avoid large numbers of challenged ballots in the Nov. 2 election ran into difficulty yesterday when the board's general counsel said the procedure would be illegal.
The board's acting executive director, David Splitt, had proposed allowing people who do not have voter-registration cards and whose names do not appear on the voter rolls to cast regular unchallenged ballots if they produced proof of residence and signed an affadavit swearing they were registered to vote.
During the past week, Splitt had instructed hundreds of precinct workers to follow the procedure. But yesterday, General Counsel William H. Lewis said the procedure "could create an atmosphere where the board could be accused of allowing people" to vote fraudulently, and said it was not legal.
The three-member D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, which expected to approve the plan yesterday, instead took the matter under advisement based on the general counsel's objections. Board Chairman Albert J. Beveridge III, who said previously he supported such a plan, indicated the board would announce a decision in a day or two.
Lewis told the board in an emergency rule-making meeting that it cannot legally permit people to cast regular ballots by their merely showing some form of identification, like a driver's license, and signing affidavits.
Instead, Lewis said, the board should allow such people to cast challenged ballots that would be kept secret and not counted until the information on the affidavits could be verified. He said the board has the legal authority to do this.
The board has been trying to avoid the problems that occurred in the Sept. 14 primary in which 20,000 legitimately registered voters had to cast special challenged ballots because their names did not appear on precinct voter rolls.
Lewis said it was legal for the board to allow voters whose names do not appear on the precinct rolls but who can show a voter-registration card to cast a regular ballot, since voters "could only have gotten that card from the board."
Under Splitt's plan for voters without registration cards, the final decision on each case would be made by the precinct captain, who could take into account identification produced by the prospective voter or even the word of a friend or relative.
Lewis said, "The memory of a precinct person as to who is or is not legitimately registered is not provided for in the statute."
Splitt argued that the proposed rule would affect only a small number of people since most of the 20,000 names excluded from the rolls in the primary have now been included. He said the rule would not affect the integrity of the election.
W. Ronald Evans, a Republican candidate for the Ward 5 council seat who also appeared before the board, argued that Splitt's proposals open "the opportunity for people to cast a separate vote for each time they have moved into a different precinct and reregistered."
He said one of his campaign workers has three different voter cards, one for each time he has moved or changed party affiliation.
Evans said that if the board approves Splitt's proposed procedures, he will seek a court injunction to block their implementation.