Brian Hart

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With just two months left to campaign before the general election, D.C. Council at-large hopefuls Kishan Putta and Brian Hart found themselves arguing this morning about sheets of paper and the whereabouts of a homeless man.

That’s all par for the course for Hart’s attempt to knock Putta off the ballot, which hinges on chiseling away at his opponent’s valid nominating petitions until he has less than the required 3,000. But the hearing at the D.C. Board of Elections took a more serious turn when Hart asked the board to investigate whether some of Putta’s signatures had been fraudulently obtained.

“We’re just raising the issue of fraud here,” Hart said.

Hart’s evidence that some of the signatures were fraudulent included a claim that multiple signatures were in the same handwriting and entire sheets were filled with the names of unregistered voters. Hart even compared Putta’s signatures to the District’s most memorable case of petition fraud, the bogus signatures submitted on behalf of former Mayor Anthony Williams in 2002 that resulted in criminal charges against petition collectors.

Even without Hart’s fraud claims, Putta started the hearing below the number of required signatures. A preliminary Board of Elections review found that he had only 2,934 valid signatures, leaving him 66 signatures short of the ballot. While Putta aims to claw some back by winning arguments over accurate voter registration addresses and a dispute over what a homeless signature gatherer should have listed as his permanent address, he conceded that his petition process was flawed.

“We could have scrutinized our petitions better, and wish we had,” Putta said.

The Board of Elections has until Sept. 8 to rule on whether Putta will be on the ballot.

Photo courtesy Brian Hart