Supporters of an effort to legalize slot machines in the District presented three witnesses to the D.C. elections board yesterday who said they did not notice any irregularities when they helped collect signatures to put the gambling initiative on the fall ballot.
Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, Albrette Ransom and Bernice Rink testified that they acted appropriately in gathering signatures from registered D.C. voters during the five-day petition drive that ended July 6. The three D.C. residents were brought before the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics by John Ray, a former D.C. Council member and an attorney for the slots initiative.
An opponent of the initiative later challenged the significance of their statements because the three signature-gatherers were supervised by Ray's law firm and were not part of another group of workers hired by a California company.
As a result, it is unlikely that the three would have witnessed any of the alleged fraud, according to anti-slots activist Dorothy Brizill.
"There were two categories" of signature-gatherers, Brizill said in an interview outside the hearing room. One group worked with Ray's law firm. A second group, hired by PCI Consultants of Santa Monica, Calif., worked out of the Red Roof Inn in Chinatown, where many of the alleged irregularities took place, she said.
The testimony came on the third day of hearings before the board, which is investigating allegations of fraud, forgery and other violations of local election laws in the petition drive. Slots supporters collected more than 56,000 signatures in support of a proposal to install 3,500 slot machines in a gambling hall on New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE.
To put the proposal on the fall ballot, supporters must prove that 17,599 of those signatures were written by registered D.C. voters. The board has until Aug. 5 to rule on whether the drive accomplished that goal.
The board plans to meet today to expedite its work. Chairman Wilma A. Lewis said she hopes to wrap up the hearings by Wednesday.
Lewis said it is possible the board could rule tomorrow on the key question of whether the signature-gatherers all had to be D.C. residents.
Opponents of the gambling initiative say that District law requires those collecting signatures to be D.C. residents and that many of them were not, which would invalidate the signatures they collected. Ray has argued to the board that out-of-towners assisted those gathering signatures and that the practice meets requirements of the law.
Kinlow, who is president of the Ward 8 Democrats, testified that he worked for a total of four hours over a few days to collect signatures and was paid $200 for delivering about 93 names to Ray's law firm.
"So you didn't know about activities at the Red Roof Inn?" Brizill asked Kinlow. "No, I do not," Kinlow answered.
Kinlow acknowledged that he is employed by Ray at the hourly rate of $20 to help verify the accuracy of the collected signatures.
When Lewis asked Kinlow to explain why two signatures he turned in July 6 bore the dates "9/2/04" and "7/11/04," Kinlow said, "I think that some people don't know what date it is, and they write down what date they think it is. . . . For some reason, their own internal clock might be off."
Kinlow said that he might ask a signer to correct a wrong date if he catches it at the time but that he does not usually fix incorrect dates on his own if he spots them later.
Northwest Washington resident Rink, who is unemployed, said that when she approached people to sign the slots petition, she talked about the 1,500 jobs that supporters say would be created at the facility as well its other attractions, including activities for children, a restaurant and a bowling alley.
"We had duckpins but never really live bowling, and that's what I'm interested in," Rink said.
Rink, who said she was paid $6.50 per signature, testified that her group was told during training to "make sure not to say 'slots' because they're not slot machines."
The official title of the initiative is for "video lottery terminals."
Ransom, who lives in Northeast Washington and works as a paralegal at the Department of Agriculture, said that she was paid $6.50 per signature initially and would receive $1 more for each name validated as that of a D.C. registered voter and another $1 per name if the effort to get the initiative on the ballot succeeded.
Yesterday's final witness, Southeast Washington resident John Capozzi, who is a candidate for an at-large seat on the Democratic State Committee, was called by the board. He testified that as he was collecting signatures for a different issue, he encountered two people from Florida preparing to work on the gambling initiative drive.
"They said that for the right financial circumstances, they would be willing to gather signatures for anyone," said Capozzi, who has filed a complaint with the board about the out-of-towners.