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Forgeries jeopardize mayor's ballot status

Williams campaign acknowledges problems

(Published July 15, 2002)

By BENJAMIN DUNCAN

Staff Writer

Thousands of signatures collected to put Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ name on the Sept. 10 Democratic primary ballot are being challenged, amid charges of forgery.

Both the D.C. Republican Committee and DC Watch, a nonpartisan political watchdog group, said they planned to file challenges by the July 15 deadline to Williams’ nominating petitions. Representatives from both organizations said they have discovered evidence of multiple violations on the petitions, including forged signatures.

"This is the largest-scale election fraud that we’ve had in the history of D.C. elections," said Gary Imhoff of DC Watch.

Imhoff said that, based on what he has seen, he believes it is likely Williams does not have the 2,000 valid signatures of registered D.C. Democrats needed to get his name on the primary ballot.

Betsy Werronen, chairman of the D.C. Republican Party, said her group had found at least 5,000 signatures that looked "suspicious" and that the number would likely increase as the petition was examined further, prior to the challenge deadline. The petition submitted by the mayor’s re-election campaign contained 10,000 signatures.

Despite the controversy, representatives from the mayor’s campaign expressed confidence that he would be able to get on the primary ballot. Spokeswoman Anne Walker Marchant said the mayor’s campaign team was conducting an internal review of the petitions and couldn’t say just yet how many may need to be thrown out. She said the possibility of the mayor running as an independent, if he is kept out of the primary, had not been discussed.

"We have not considered a scenario where he won’t get on the Democratic ballot," she said.

Marchant said that if allegations of forged signatures prove to be true, steps will be taken to punish the appropriate offenders.

"If that is the case, there will be various actions taken," she said. "That is not something that the mayor will tolerate."

At his weekly press briefing on July 10, Mayor Williams said he was "nauseated" by reports of forged signatures on his campaign petitions. Television and newspaper reports showed numerous names on the petitions that appeared to be signed by the same person. Among the suspicious signatures was one that purported to be that of America Online executive James Kimsey, who lives in Virginia and is, therefore, ineligible to vote in D.C. elections. Kimsey denied signing the petition.

Political observers said they expected the mayor’s campaign to announce a major reorganization sometime this week.

Even if a significant portion of the petition signatures are found to be fraudulent, Williams would still get on the ballot if his petitions contain enough valid signatures of D.C. voters registered as Democrats, said Ken McGee, general counsel for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.

"If he has 2,000 signatures, he’ll get on the ballot," McGee said.

The allegations of forgery against the Williams campaign apparently involve certain campaign workers who were paid to collect the required number of signatures for the upcoming primary. Werronen said Republican Party officials, who did not field a mayoral candidate to oppose Williams’ re-election, noticed questionable signatures almost immediately after candidate petitions were put on public display last week.

Closer examination showed thousands of names to have been written apparently by the same person and others turned out to be signed by non-registered voters, she said. Several of the petitions also were circulated by campaign workers who were not registered to vote, a violation of election laws, she said.

Werronen said invalid signatures are found on almost any petition, but she said the extent of the fraud perpetrated on behalf of the Williams campaign went much deeper than human error.

"Petitions handed in by the most upright petition collectors may have some mistakes, but what we’re seeing when we look at the 10,000 signatures here is a total disregard for the system," she said.

If petition challenges are filed – as expected – with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, a three-member panel will review the signatures on the Williams petitions one by one to determine which ones may be fraudulent, elections officials said. If the number of valid signatures on the petition falls below the minimum requirement, Williams would be disqualified from running as a Democrat. If that happens, Williams would have the option of running as an independent candidate in the Nov. 5 general election if he were able to gather 3,000 signatures by Aug. 28.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator