D.C. Elections Board says it lacks funds to improve on questionable track record

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer

The District Board of Elections Chairwoman Deborah Nichols accused the mayor's office Tuesday of "nickel-and-diming the electorate" by underfunding next month's special election by more than $200,000 of its requested budget.

The city has allocated $832,788 for the April 23 special election, which features a seven-person contest for an at-large D.C. Council seat and referendum that would give the city budget autonomy. The Board of Elections said it requested $1,046,800.

Election officials said they needed money to ensure that election facilities and other expenses get paid. Additionally, further funding could be used to publicize the special election to improve voter turnout or to improve pay for election workers.

"I agree with your concern about nickel-and-diming the electorate," Councilman Kenyan McDuffie told Nichols during an oversight hearing.

The city has had past issues at the polls. After last year's Nov. 6 election, advisory neighborhood commissioners and other local leaders complained of long lines, equipment errors and ballot problems. At the time, Clifford Tatum, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections, defended his group's performance. But one voter compared the election-day experience with "voting in a Third World country."

During Tuesday's hearing, Board of Elections officials said they could not improve elections without the proper funding.

"I'm concerned that we get criticized for the quality of the elections that we provide, at least that we've provided the last couple of elections," Nichols said. "When we don't have the proper funding that is going to have an impact on the level of service and the quality of service we can provide."

Accusations of underspending have been an easy line of attack against the mayor's office this year, after it announced that the city ran a $417 million budget surplus this past fiscal year.

Election officials said they could use extra funds to better publicize the election -- which is expected to attract less than 15 percent of registered voters -- or to raise wages for poll workers to attract "a higher caliber of employee," Tatum said.

Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said the April 23 special election is about the same as last time around.

"We funded them at slightly more than the last special election, and we're happy to discuss any additional funding that they require beyond that," Ribeiro said.

A senior John A. Wilson Building official questioned whether the city should direct money toward the Board of Elections while questions about mismanagement there linger. "Why are we going to throw good money after bad?" the source asked.

Most recently, D.C. Council candidate Paul Zukerberg accused the board of failing to maintain accurate voter roles, nearly leading to his disqualification from the race.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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