Organizers of a petition drive to legalize slot machines in the District have brought in some workers from outside the city to collect signatures, according to interviews with several of the recruits, although the law requires that the circulators of the forms be District residents.
One worker said the campaign is circumventing that statute by having D.C. residents sign affidavits that say they gathered the petition signatures, even though they did not actually witness all the signatures being placed on the forms. A community activist opposed to the slots initiative made a similar allegation yesterday in a letter to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
Alice P. Miller, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, said yesterday that the law states that all petition circulators must live in the District. She also said that the circulators must witness all the signatures on their petitions.
But a petition handler who said he lives in Northern Virginia described in an interview how he and other petition circulators were accompanied Thursday night by a D.C. resident who signed the circulator's affidavit on the back of their forms despite not witnessing many of the signatures.
The Northern Virginia man also said that the group of workers who fanned out Thursday night to collect signatures included a number of people from the Orlando area. He spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying that organizers had instructed workers not to talk to the news media.
Two other workers gathering petition signatures -- one at the Anacostia Metro station and the other near Eastern Market -- told reporters yesterday that they were from the Orlando area. They declined to give their names or explain how they got involved in the petition drive.
Progressive Campaigns Inc., the California company hired to run the petition drive, did not return a call yesterday seeking comment.
The general counsel for the slots initiative, former D.C. Council member John Ray, said the campaign set up procedures to try to ensure that the circulators were District residents.
"Everyone has been instructed that they have to be a resident of the city. . . . Those who sign up with us actually sign the forms stating they are a District of Columbia resident," Ray said. "Unless they're lying to us, they are residents."
He added that Progressive Campaigns has brought in managers and "a lot of those people are not from the city. But they are not supposed to be circulating any petitions."
To get the slots initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot, the proposal's backers must get the signatures of 17,599 registered D.C. voters by the close of business Tuesday. The initiative would ask voters to approve a plan to install as many as 3,500 video lottery terminals in an entertainment complex to be built on 14 acres at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE.
Once the petitions are submitted to the elections board, the panel will have 30 days to review them to make sure they meet the requirements of the law.
Dorothy Brizill, the activist who wrote yesterday's letter of complaint to the board, said her allegations are based on her own observation of the petition drive.
She said in her letter that circulators' affidavits are being signed by D.C. residents who "are not witnessing each signature personally. They are simply signing the petitions that are actually being gathered by the other, out-of-town members of their team."
In an interview with a reporter, one petition circulator working outside a supermarket on P Street NW yesterday declined to give his name or show proof of District residency. Asked where the petition drive was headquartered, he said "Avenue K" and then "Avenue H," an erroneous reference to H Street NW, where a hotel serving as one of the bases of operations is located.
The worker also displayed a brochure that said the gambling initiative will help create "a charitable trust with an equity interest to fund a literacy program for D.C. public school children."
In her letter to the elections board, Brizill cited the brochure and noted that the statement "is not truthful."
On Tuesday, a D.C. Superior Court judge said he was allowing the elections board to certify the initiative but not without requiring some language changes on the petition. One of them was the removal of language saying that the D.C. Council would receive a nonbinding recommendation to spend its share of the slots money "to improve public schools and to help senior citizens obtain prescription drugs."
At the Anacostia Metro station yesterday, three petition circulators who said they were District residents simply asked if passersby wanted to sign the petition and pointed to the title, "The Video Lottery Terminal Initiative of 2004." One of them noted that the VLTs were like slot machines.
But at the Good Hope Marketplace in Southeast Washington, one petition circulator who said he was a District resident told a woman that money from the gaming project would go to the city's schools.
"I don't have any problem with gambling, but they should be more straight up about where the money is going and not say it is going to schools," Deborah Wells, who signed the petition, said in an interview.
The worker then told another woman that the petition was intended to get the D.C. Lottery on the ballot. After she questioned him, he explained that the petition drive had to do with video lottery terminals that would be tied to the D.C. Lottery.
Staff writer David Montgomery contributed to this report.