The committee behind the initiative to legalize slot machine gambling in the District yesterday withdrew about 10 percent of the 3,869 petitions submitted to the D.C. elections board.
The action follows eight days of hearings into allegations that slots supporters violated city election laws during a five-day petition drive aimed at getting the initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot.
In a letter to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, the committee's attorney, John Ray, listed 389 petitions that the proponents of the initiative "would like to withdraw." The list includes 89 sheets from three petition workers who testified under immunity this week that they signed the circulator's affidavits on numerous sheets even though they did not witness any of the signatures. Ray's letter also asks the board to pull 34 signatures from 11 petitions signed by Augusteen Cowan, who also testified under immunity.
"We had an opportunity to go through the petitions and remove those that we feel are not verifiable or complete," said D.C. businessman Pedro Alfonso, the local investor in the proposed project to open a gambling hall with 3,500 slot machines at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE.
Alfonso added in the interview that "what we have done is further refine" the more than 56,000 signatures the proponents submitted, excluding sheets and signatures that would not be verifiable by the board because "of any kind of fraud, or bad names or no dates," among other things.
He said the committee believes it still has well above the 17,599 valid signatures needed to put the initiative before voters. But he noted that the 24,000 signatures that proponents considered valid after the petition campaign have probably shrunk by several hundred because of the board's decision to throw out some signatures and the committee's move to withdraw others.
Alfonso contended that most of the petitions mentioned in yesterday's letter came from the batch of roughly 32,000 petitions that the slots committee could not verify.
"I don't believe that for one hot minute," said Dorothy Brizill, a slots opponent involved in one of the two challenges to the petition drive. She added that the petitions listed in Ray's letter are "significant in the sense that he has pulled so many sheets because of the damning testimony they [petition workers] gave in the closing days of hearings."
The hearings are scheduled to conclude Monday after the testimony of an additional witness and closing arguments from the initiative's supporters and opponents. The board has until Tuesday to rule on the challenges and until Thursday to determine whether the petition drive produced enough valid signatures of registered voters to qualify the initiative for the ballot.
Alfonso said the petitions withdrawn include many that were circulated on the final day of the drive. "On the last day . . . we did not have a chance to go through a verification process," he said. "Circulators were bringing sheets down to the Board of Elections and Ethics and were adding them to our pile."
But Brizill contended that the committee's action yesterday did not go far enough in eliminating problematic petitions.
The letter states that the committee is withdrawing 50 sheets signed by Andre Rempson. Records show that he submitted a total of 52 petitions with 709 signatures. According to the letter, the proponents are also pulling 41 sheets signed by Rose Daniels. She handed in a total of 45 forms containing 642 signatures.
And the supporters, the letter says, are also tossing 24 petitions signed by Danielle Campbell. Records indicate that she submitted 51 sheets bearing 690 signatures. The letter also included a category of "others," which totaled 210 petitions.