Yesterday the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled that while Patrick Mara will be staying in the April 26 At-Large Special Election ballot, Jacque Patterson will not. The full Mara ruling is here, the full Patterson ruling here. The Post's Mike DeBonis provided coverage here, and the Examiner's Freeman Klopott here. Below are some thoughts on the rulings.
Patterson's argument that the format of Interim Councilmember Sekou Biddle's challenges was inappropriate and should be tossed altogether didn't fly with the board. (Biddle didn't cite names that were being challenged as set forth in D.C. electoral rules, but rather listed page and line numbers.)
Beyond stating that the format was clear enough, the board was wary of allowing Patterson on the ballot since a preliminary determination had found that of his 3,408 submitted signatures, only 2,217 were valid. "Allowing the Respondent on the ballot with the knowledge that he is below the threshold amount for ballot access by 783 signatures would demonstrate a miscarriage of the Board’s duty under the law," read the ruling. Additionally, it said, "the Board is authorized to waive any harmless error that does not prejudice the parties."
The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled this afternoon that Patrick Mara will remain on the April 26 ballot, while Jacque Patterson will not.
Jacque Patterson submitted 3,408 signatures to get on the ballot, of which only 2,217 remained after the board reviewed a challenge submitted by Interim Councilmember Sekou Biddle. During a hearing last week before the board, Patterson argued that the format of the challenge did not comply with the city's electoral regulations, and added that it was filed with the sole intention of bogging Patterson's campaign down at a key moment.
Mara, the sole Republican in the race, submitted 5,629 signatures, 3,182 of which were left after a challenge by Biddle's campaign was reviewed by the board. Late last week, additional signatures were put under review by the board, which claimed to have found alleged forged signatures on 35 petition sheets handled by seven paid circulators. The new claims provoked Mara's attorney to complain that the board wasn't following its own rules and was colluding with the Biddle campaign to subject Mara to additional scrutiny.
Any appeals to the D.C. courts have to be filed by March 18.
At a press briefing this morning, Patrick Mara's attorney accused the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics of working to deny the sole Republican in the At-Large race a spot on the April 26 ballot. Mara's attorney, Charles Spies, also pledged a legal fight if the board's decision, due by 5 p.m. today, went against his client.
Speaking after a contentious hearing yesterday at which the Mara campaign was asked to explain what looked like forged signatures on 35 petition sheets, Spies said that the board was "pulling out all the stops with a results-oriented process to find a way to knock Patrick Mara off the ballot."
"Patrick is an outsider who's not part of the D.C. government...he's a threat to them," said Spies.
After submitting over 5,600 signatures on February 28 to get on the ballot, Mara was challenged by Interim Councilmember Sekou Biddle and Josh Lopez supporter Lawrence Guyot. The Biddle challenge whittled Mara's signature count down to 3,182, just enough to get him on the ballot. But late last week the board announced that it had found irregularities with 35 petition sheets circulated by seven people; the sheets were said to contain signatures that seem to have been signed by the same person. If those allegations proved true, they could well knock Mara off the ballot. (Or not. The Post's Mike DeBonis confirmed yesterday that only 80 signatures may be at risk.)
At a hearing at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics this afternoon, Patrick Mara's campaign was accused of forging signatures on nominating petitions, claims Mara's lawyers vehemently denied as they hinted that the board was colluding with one of Mara's challengers against the sole Republican in the At-Large race.
The hearing was originally scheduled to take place last Thursday to consider a preliminary determination by the board that of the 5,629 signatures Mara collected on nominating petitions to get on the At-Large ballot, 3,182 were valid. (Interim Councilmember Sekou Biddle had challenged 3,660 of them, while a separate challenge filed by Josh Lopez supporter Lawrence Guyot targeted 1,047 signatures.) The hearing was postponed at the last minute, and on Friday Mara was informed that the board was looking into 35 petition sheets circulated by seven people for claims of forged signatures. That news meant that Mara's place on the ballot was in serious jeopardy.
In his opening statement, Mara attorney Charles Spies objected to how the hearing had been re-scheduled and the new allegations that had been raised. Spies quoted extensively from a Post editorial published over the weekend that claimed that Republicans were at an unfair disadvantage when dealing with the board, two members of which are Democrats and a third minority-party seat that has remain unfilled for a year. Spies argued that Mara's petitions were being subjected to "unique scrutiny," and that the campaign was only notified Friday at noon of the new claims against it.
Only a few weeks ago Bryan Weaver faced the prospect of being knocked off the April 26 At-Large Special Election, but today the challenges filed against him by Interim Councilmember Sekou Biddle were officially withdrawn.
On February 28, Biddle challenged 1,416 of the 3,480 signatures submitted by Weaver to get on the ballot. After Weaver pointed to a number of valid voters that were oddly challenged (including his wife and campaign manager), the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled that only 532 of the challenges were valid, leaving Weaver with 2,948 out of the 3,000 signatures needed to remain on the ballot. The board also ruled, though, that 261 of the signatures were valid pending change-of-address forms were submitted. On March 10, Weaver turned in 68 COA forms, leaving him with 3,016 signatures.
Weaver can now continue campaigning with the confidence that it won't be for nothing -- he's on the ballot. Jacque Patterson and Patrick Mara, on the other hand, are still facing uncertain prospects. Mara will face the board today, while Patterson stated his case last week and is awaiting a decision on whether Biddle's challenges of his petitions will be thrown out or not.
Update, 3:20 p.m.: According to a Weaver campaign official, a final review by the board of Biddle's challenges and the COA forms submitted by Weaver brought his total number of signatures to 3,032.
Republican Pat Mara will face the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics today at 1:30 p.m. to respond to allegations of forged signatures on various nominating petitions submitted to get him on the April 26 At-Large Special Election ballot. The image above, a petition sheet circulated by John Moon, shows what the board is apparently concerned with -- note the names and similar-looking signatures. The board is claiming that six other circulators presented the same problems; 35 pages in total are cited.
At today's hearing, Mara either has to produce the seven petition circulators or affidavits from them verifying that the signatures are authentic. Mara and the D.C. GOP argue that timing of such claims are suspect, and that these concerns should have been raised by the board after the 10-day challenge period. (The board issued preliminary assessments as to the viability of challenges on March 7.)
I'll be there and have updates as events warrant.
Republican At-Large candidate Pat Mara may have looked like a safe-bet to make it on the April 26 Special Election ballot, but he still has to overcome a hearing at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics that may well put him under the required signature threshold.
According to a source, Mara's original hearing, scheduled for last Thursday, was postponed at the last-minute because the board was reviewing a number of signatures on nominating petitions that may have been filled out by the same person. The source told me that the board explained what it was looking at in a letter to Mara; the board later confirmed a letter had been sent. (Update, 11:15 a.m.: The letter is below.)
If the signatures are found to be invalid, Mara may be knocked below the 3,000-signature threshold to remain on the ballot. After an initial review by the board of two challenges filed against Mara -- one by Interim Councilmember Sekou Biddle, the other by Josh Lopez supporter Lawrence Guyot -- the sole Republican in the race was left with 3,182 valid signatures, 182 more than required.
But the letter, which was sent Friday, said that the board was looking into "what appear to be signature forgeries," according to a Post editorial published on Saturday. The source told me that 194 signatures might be at risk. If that's true, Mara would be left with 2,988 signatures -- 12 short of what he needs to stay on the ballot. (This hasn't been verified yet.)
Mara and the D.C. GOP aren't happy with the sudden developments. Paul Craney, the party's executive director, told me that they didn't receive the letter from the board until Friday at noon, leaving them little time to prepare a response to the new challenges. More importantly, he said, Craney wondered why Mara's petitions were undergoing additional scrutiny after the formal challenge period had ended. (It ran from February 16 to February 28; the board issued its preliminary determinations on March 7.) Craney also questioned why it was that only Mara was facing these last-minute concerns.
This week should continue being somewhat busy as we head towards the April 26 At-Large Special Election:
- Tonight there are two conflicting candidate forums: The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club is hosting a forum for Democratic candidates only at Town from 6:30-9 p.m. (they're also looking to vote on endorsing a candidate) and the Georgia Avenue Community Development Taskforce is similarly putting on a forum from 7-9 p.m. at Bruce Monroe at Park View Elementary School (3560 Warder St. NW, auditorium).
- Both Bryan Weaver and Patrick Mara have their hearings before the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics today. Weaver's at noon, Mara at 1:30 p.m. Weaver picked up enough change-of-address forms last week to keep him on the ballot, while Mara is still facing a challenge that might knock him off the ballot. More on this to come.
- On that note, the board has until 5 p.m. tomorrow to rule on the validity of challenges to nominating petitions. Probably the most-awaited decision will be Jacque Patterson's, who faced the board last week and stand to be kicked off the ballot if challenges filed by Interim Councilmember Sekou Biddle are upheld.
- Once those decisions are out, candidates have until Friday, March 18 to appeal to D.C. courts.
I'll be following all the developments as they occur, so keep it here. Tonight I'm heading to Georgia Avenue for the forum, and I hope to live-tweet the event (hashtag: #four26dc).
Bryan Weaver submitted 68 change-of-address forms to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics this afternoon, all but assuring a place from himself on the April 26 At-Large Special Election ballot.
On Monday, the board found that of the 3,480 signatures he submitted to get on the ballot, 2,948 were valid -- putting him below the 3,000-signature threshold. But the board also determined that 261 signatures were valid pending a change-of-address, leaving Weaver a good pool to work with to make up the 52 signatures he needs to stay on the ballot. Over the last three days campaign volunteers visited homes and offices to get change-of-address forms filed out, which were due today.
If all the change-of-address forms pass muster, Weaver will have 3,016 valid signatures.
Weaver still faces a hearing before the board on Monday to deal with the challenges filed by Interim Councilmember Sekou Biddle. It's doubtful that the Biddle campaign will re-double its efforts to have Weaver booted off the ballot, though.
Patrick Mara was supposed to have met with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics this morning to review the status of two challenges against him, but his hearing was abruptly pushed to next Tuesday. (Update, 5:30 p.m.: BOEE just announced that the hearing will take place on Monday at 1:30 p.m., not Tuesday.)
Mara wasn't only peeved that the hearing didn't happen -- he wasn't given any advance notice, he said, and neither was his legal team or campaign manager -- but also that no one from Interim Councilmember Sekou Biddle's campaign bothered to show up. On February 28 Biddle challenged 3,600 of Mara's 5,629 signatures, leaving Mara with 3,182 valid signatures -- 182 more than he needs to get on the ballot. (A seperate challenge filed by Lawrence Guyot only targeted 1,047 signatures.)
To Mara, the Biddle campaign's absence was evidence that the challenge was merely a ploy to "tie up the resources of BOEE...as well as campaign resources." Mara said he had 40 people reviewing signatures, and had found more valid signatures than BOEE claimed in its pre-conference hearing earlier this week.
Even when Mara does go before the board on Tuesday, the hearing will be somewhat pointless. Guyot didn't challenge enough signatures to get Mara off the ballot, and even with Biddle's succesful challenges upheld, the sole Republican in the race will remain on the ballot. Additionally, Tuesday is the deadline for the board to issue any rulings on challenges, so whoever presides will have to make a decision quickly.
Bryan Weaver is next to face the board, with a hearing scheduled for noon on Monday. Provided he turns in 52 change-of-address forms by today, he should be fine to remain on the ballot.