Pro-business challenger to Elissa Silverman kicked off ballot over fraudulent signatures

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The DC Board of Elections disqualified independent at-large DC Council hopeful S. Kathryn Allen from the November ballot late Monday night, finding that her nominating petitions contained widespread forgery and too few valid signatures.

The Elections Board sided with a challenge from incumbent Council member Elissa Silverman, whose lawyer argued Friday the board should reject all signatures belonging to Allen’s campaign manager as well as those attributed to two listed petition circulators who told the board they did not actually collect any signatures for the campaign.

The DC Board of Elections posted Monday’s 11-page ruling on its website moments after midnight.

The board rejected 675 signatures belonging to four individuals, leaving Allen nearly 600 signatures short of the 3,000 needed to make the ballot. “Alleged instances of fraud” will be referred to the DC Office of the Attorney General, the board said in its order.

“The Board’s decision clearly communicated that fraud is not permissible,” Silverman said in a statement issued Tuesday morning. “D.C. residents need to be able to trust our elections process. The idea behind nominating petitions is for a candidate to demonstrate some grassroots support among voters, and that should not be faked.”

One of Allen’s four purported signature-gatherers, Leonard Howard, told board members under oath Friday that he did not circulate petitions for the campaign despite being listed as having collected 907 signatures. Another staffer, Tameka Lewter, wrote likewise in a signed affidavit. They said their names were forged onto petition sheets. Yet another staffer had all but two of her signatures discounted last week by the board, and the rest were struck in Monday’s ruling.

Campaign manager Kevin Parker did not answer questions about signatures he submitted, some of which seemed to be copied from the nominating petitions of a candidate in the June primary, according to the board.

It appeared unlikely Allen would appeal the decision to the DC Court of Appeals. In a statement issued soon after the board’s decision was released, the campaign said that “we were unable to prevail in our effort” to qualify for the ballot.

S. Kathryn Allen’s campaign issued a statement to its supporters soon after the Elections Board announced its decision.

“We want to thank all of our supporters who contributed their efforts and resources and have maintained their belief in our campaign,” the campaign said.

The ruling is a blow to the business community, whose influence over the Wilson Building has eroded in recent years with the election of new progressive lawmakers. With the backing of former Mayor Anthony Williams and former Council member David Catania, Allen positioned herself as a counterweight to the council’s lefty bloc. A former federal employee and a business owner, Allen targeted landmark legislation passed with Silverman’s strong support that established paid family leave for workers in DC. Allen argued the program is funded through an unfair tax on business.

Silverman had lodged her complaint to the Elections Board on Aug. 20 after finding thousands of inconsistencies and apparent fake signatures among the 6,068 signatures Allen turned in. The news of Silverman’s intent to file the challenge was first reported by District Dig, a few days after former DC ethics official Traci Hughes announced that she would not seek ballot access for the at-large contest upon finding fake signatures among those provided by an outside firm her campaign had hired.

Independent S. Kathryn Allen was mounting a pro-business challenge to incumbent Elissa Silverman. Among her most prominent supporters were former Mayor Anthony Williams and former at-large DC Council member David Catania. (Photo courtesy of the S. Kathryn Allen campaign)

Last Wednesday, the Elections Board accepted only 3,101 of Allen’s signatures as valid, giving her a 101-signature buffer heading into Monday’s final decision. Half of the rejected signatures were from “unqualified petition circulators” or belonged to unregistered voters.

Parker had gone missing in recent weeks, and the campaign did not return questions over his status. The Elections Board rejected 217 signatures collected by Parker, writing that it appeared he copied voter signatures and names from the campaign of Marcus Goodwin, who lost to at-large Council member Anita Bonds in the June Democratic primary.

“The signatures attributed to Mr. Parker were not acceptable because they contained many signatures in the same sequential order as those on the nominating petition of Mr. Marcus Goodwin indicating fraud,” the board wrote.

Four registered voters submitted signed affidavits to the Elections Board that said their signatures were forged on petitions circulated by Parker.

One such fake signature belonged to Rashid Mathus, according to his testimony to the Board of Elections last Friday. Mathus said he did not sign a nominating petition for Allen despite his name and signature appearing on a form circulated by Parker.

Reaction came swiftly from political observers who tweeted within minutes of the decision. Some joked about repeatedly refreshing the Board of Elections website as the night wore on, given that the board had said it would rule Monday. The order was posted moments after midnight, with Thursday’s deadline to appeal the ruling to the DC Court of Appeals rapidly approaching.

WAMU political commentator Tom Sherwood raised the question of whether some of Allen’s key supporters — such as Williams and Catania — could end up backing challenger Dionne Reeder, notwithstanding past disagreements. “As some say, in politics there’s no permanent friends or enemies,” he tweeted.

With Allen removed from the Nov. 6 ballot, Reeder and Silverman — both independents — are among seven candidates vying for the two at-large seats up this year. The others are Democratic nominee Anita Bonds, an incumbent; Republican nominee Ralph J. Chittams Sr.; Libertarian nominee Denise Hicks; independent Rustin M. Lewis; and Statehood Green Party nominee David Schwartzman.

In Monday’s decision, the board relied on a 2002 ruling that booted Williams, co-chair of Allen’s campaign, from the mayoral ballot.

“As in the case of Brizill v. Williams, the Board is compelled to disallow all signatures from

circulators who disavow circulating the nominating petition sheets attributed to them, and/or have a taint of documented fraudulent activity,” the ruling said.

This post has been updated to correct the number of petition circulators who told the board they did not actually collect any signatures for the campaign, and to include Tuesday morning’s statement from the Silverman campaign.

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