For most people, home is where they lay their head. But in Ward 8, that’s an elusive determination when questions arise about the residency of elected officials.
With its porous border with Prince George’s County, the southeastern ward has long been a subject of debate over who lives there and who does not. Generations of Washingtonians who grew up in Ward 8 still have family there whether they reside there or not, and the occasional person who stays with a relative in the ward can be subject to suspicion or speculation that they really live in “Ward 9.”
So it was no great surprise to Loose Lips to learn that city officials have received multiple complaints of seven Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners who are being accused of living outside of Ward 8—and even beyond D.C.’s borders.
ANC candidates must be registered D.C. voters who have lived in the single-member district of the ward that they will represent for 60 days before submitting their petition to get on the ballot, which is due 90 days before the election. D.C. election law states that a registered voter may challenge the registration status of another voter by writing to the Board of Elections and providing evidence to support their challenge. The board then notifies the person being challenged, requires a response, and finally makes a decision based on what is submitted, often under penalty of perjury.
Accusations that an ANC candidate or official is not a valid registered voter or no longer resides in their ward or their single-member district are not unheard of, but multiple complaints against seven officials at once are somewhat of a phenomenon.
One of the complainants is ANC 8B02 Commissioner Paul Trantham, a private investigator who lives in Southeast. Trantham tells LL that he has personal knowledge that his counterpart ANC commissioners have used their relatives’ addresses to validate their voter registration status when in fact they live in Maryland or Virginia. In March, Trantham brought his complaints to At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, whose office asked the Board of Elections to “validate or discount” allegations of voter fraud against the seven members. (Bonds chairs the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, which oversees the Office on Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.)
The election board’s registrar, Karen Brooks, promptly replied to Bonds’ chief of staff David Meadows that the burden of proof is on the complainant “to provide documentation to prove their claim.”
That’s where the trail went cold. Trantham, who has vowed to investigate further, finds it outrageous that the burden of proof is on him. “There’s too many people getting away with it,” he says. “It’s a disservice to us and embarrassment to [the election board].”
Kenneth McGhie, counsel to the election board, tells LL that he has a small staff and that Trantham needs to provide documentation to support the complaint, after which the board can act. “We can’t initiate an investigation on our own,” McGhie says. “That’s a clear conflict of interest.” And thus far, he adds, Trantham has not met his burden. “I’ve talked to him two or three times, and he hasn’t provided squat.”
Meadows confirms receiving numerous complaints about the same individuals, and LL’s sources in Ward 8 say it’s common knowledge that certain ANC officials are using a relative’s address while living in Maryland. “We’ve emphasized how precious the right to vote is,” says Meadows. “This is not something to be treated lightly. But there has to be something to back up the complaint.”
LL finds it odd that a candidate for office could run and get elected without being required to prove their residency when they file their petition to get on the ballot. Odder still that the law essentially requires a complainant to play detective to catch a candidate’s violation before authorities will lift a finger. Proving a negative, when all is said and done, is no simple matter for an ordinary citizen who lacks the color of authority.
A cursory glance at the Ward 8 ANC website shows that six of the seven officials Trantham suspects of living outside the ward do not list phone numbers, and one of them does not list a street address. Almost all of the addresses listed are apartment buildings, and most do not list unit numbers.
LL tracked down a phone number for one of the ANC members, Mikelle Bassett, and called to inquire about Trantham’s allegation. Bassett refused to confirm her address until LL could prove his own identity. “Paul Trantham is crazy,” she says. (Bassett filed a restraining order against Trantham in January, but the case was dismissed.)
Karen “Coach” Lucas, whose street address is not listed on the ANC 8C website, reportedly has been seen driving with Virginia tags, so LL called her as well. Lucas cites a D.C. address and says she lives there with her father, adding “everyone knows it.” As for her car, she says her Jaguar was totalled and so she sometimes uses cars belonging to her mother and sister, both of whom live in Virginia. “You’re welcome to come on over,” Lucas says. “There’s too much foolishness and shenanigans going on around here and this is just to distract from other issues.”
For now, LL plans to leave it to the authorities—or rather the complainants. “If the [election] board is not taking it seriously, then it’s gonna keep happening, and it’s wrong,” Trantham says.