The city’s special election for an At-Large Council seat is now less than two months away — and we finally know who is, and is not, on the ballot. The election is to fill the seat formerly held by Phil Mendeslson, who won a special election in November for Council chairman — and is currently held by Anita Bonds, who was appointed by members of the Democratic Party to fill the seat until the election.
One of the original eight candidates will not be on the ballot come April: Logan Circle resident John Settles. Supporters of candidate Elissa Silverman challenged the ballot petitions of candidates Paul Zukerberg and John Settles. A total of 3,000 valid signatures were required to be on the ballot in April (there is no party primary, just the general election on April 23).
From John Settles’ February 26 statement: “It is political tricks of the status quo that taint the process and disproportionately impact new candidates, those with new ideas, positive energy, and no allegiances to the political establishment. It is an exploit of political insiders, insistent on maintaining power, at the expense of the betterment of the city. Civic-minded citizens need to stand up and call out those candidates, and their supporters that engage in these tactics. The Board of Elections also needs to answer the question of how they can limit voter choice, and impact elections using faulty data.
It turns out that Settles submitted more than enough signatures, but many were deemed invalid, per the DC Boards of Elections and Ethics requirements (DCBOEE). Now, Settles, who is out of the race, questions the DCBOEE’s records and their reason for knocking him off the ballot. One of Settles’ main questions goes to the accuracy of the DCBOEE voter registration files — the board has not been quick about processing change of address forms for DC voters.
The candidates that remain in the race are Michael A. Brown (who lost his At-Large seat last November), Anita Bonds, Matthew Frumin, Elissa Silverman, Paul Zukerberg, Perry Redd (Green Party) and Republican Patrick Mara. For more information about the candidates’ stand on the issues, visit Let’s Choose DC, a website created for the April 23 election by Greater Greater Washington, DCist and Popville.
Under the DCBOEE guidelines, registered DC voters who sign petitions must be registered at their current address. But, Settles asks whether this really matters in an At-Large (citywide) election, as long as voters are registered at a valid address in DC — and at what point is the DCBOEE responsible for its tardiness in processing change of address forms.
Statement from Settles
On February 26, Settles released the following statement, titled “Dirty Politics and Petition Changes” (Silverman’s reponse follows) –
“Less than four months ago I was listening to the news, and within a span of 10 minutes I heard about a rash of armed robberies on streets across the city, proposed school closings, and the increase in the average cost of a home in DC. As I thought of these and other problems, gripping my neighborhood and the broader city I thought about what I might be able to do. I decided to enter the race for the DC City Council.
“I had no idea of the sacrifice it takes to run for office. In spite of the difficulty I discovered, I was still ready to start courageous conversations and at the very least have a positive impact on the debate. Initially I was getting some pressure from a few insiders to drop out of the race.
“Just as my campaign was gaining momentum, a supporter of Elissa Silverman, a competitor, challenged my petition signatures, on her behalf. The DC Board of Elections requires candidates to collect 3,000 signatures from registered voters, in just over a month. We collected well over the required number, however, around 500 were ruled not registered and over 675 of these signatures were contested because while the signers were registered to vote in DC, they had moved and their new address was not in the Board of Elections system. Thirty-one people who signed were residents of the homeless shelter; they were ruled invalid because in the midst of struggling to keep their lives together they didn’t file a change of address form. Hundreds were elderly residents living in senior citizen facilities. The other majority were low-income individuals, who move frequently due to the high cost of housing in the city.
“The data used to determine the validity of the challenge has been in question for years. Even after receiving a count from the Registrar, we found over a dozen voters that the Board of Elections had ruled as not registered, were in fact registered, the board admitted the error, and revised the count. Many signers that were challenged informed us that they had just voted in November, and that they had changed their address, either when they renewed their driver’s license, or voted. It is surprising that a voter can update their change of address at a polling station on Election Day, and still be eligible to vote, but they can’t sign a petition to get a candidate on the ballot. In a city wide election why does it even matter that someone is not at the same address if they are registered to vote?
“It is political tricks of the status quo that taint the process and disproportionately impact new candidates, those with new ideas, positive energy, and no allegiances to the political establishment. It is an exploit of political insiders, insistent on maintaining power, at the expense of the betterment of the city. Civic-minded citizens need to stand up and call out those candidates, and their supporters that engage in these tactics. The Board of Elections also needs to answer the question of how they can limit voter choice, and impact elections using faulty data. Elissa Silverman, and her supporters also need to explain how in good conscious they can disenfranchise homeless individuals, seniors, low income individuals, and minorities, using data that they contend is faulty, in a current lawsuit against the board of elections.
“Even if I lose the opportunity to campaign to voters in this Special Election, I am still committed to taking on the status quo, starting courageous conversations and being part of the solution. A technicality may end this campaign, at least for now, but my compassion for the people does not end here or now. I want to thank the voters who signed my petitions, the volunteers who helped me in this campaign and the supporters who were encouraging throughout the whole process. Even if it is not in electoral politics, my desire for action and change has only been intensified by this experience.”
Candidate Elissa Silverman responded to Settles’ statement with the following statement –
“I put my own petitions through the exact same process used to review John’s petitions before I handed them in to the Board of Elections. I put that process in place given my experience collecting signatures for a grassroots initiative to put a campaign finance reform bill on the ballot, and so I could guarantee to my volunteer circulators and signers that I would meet the ballot requirement. I think we need more oversight over the Board of Elections and its process to register and update voters, and I vow to do that on the Council.”