AS WITH THE petitions scandal that marred the 2002 Democratic mayoral primary, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics must vigorously investigate the just-concluded petition drive by proponents of putting a slot machine gambling proposal on the November ballot. There seems to be substantial evidence that District laws were violated by some of what the law calls petition "circulators" and that campaign workers made false statements about the gambling proposal to get people to sign the forms. Such action is an affront to the city's election laws. Just as the elections board took action against petition forgeries and other irregularities in the 2002 campaign of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), it must now enforce the law strictly without favoritism or deference to anyone.

Backers of the petition effort admit that they brought in paid workers from as far as California, Florida and Michigan to help circulate and witness the signing of petitions that were submitted to the board this week. The Post even interviewed petition circulators who said they were from out of town. It so happens that D.C. law states that petition circulators must be District residents. The legality of the slots campaign's deployment of workers and the validity of their petitions ought to be priorities of the elections board. The panel should also seek statements from residents who can testify that out-of-town circulators forged signatures, falsely claimed to have witnessed signatures and used questionable tactics and arguments to persuade people to sign.

As we noted at the time of the mayor's petition scandal, the signature-gathering process is a fundamental step in the task of self-government. The thought of paid political operatives coming to the nation's capital to falsely inflate the signature count for proponents of slot machine gambling is galling. The Board of Elections and Ethics is duty-bound to not let such a mockery stand.