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Interpretative Opinion 04-04: Use of District of Columbia Voting Equipment

April 08, 2004
 

Alice P. Miller
Executive Director
Board of Elections and Ethics
441 4th Street, NW. Suite 250
Washington, DC 20001

Re: Use of District of Columbia voting equipment

Dear Ms. Miller:

This responds to your request for an opinion concerning whether District of Columbia voting equipment may be used by public and private entities to conduct private elections and provide demonstrations regarding the voting process in the District of Columbia. You also indicated that the Board’s staff cannot always attend the events to provide supervision of the equipment

Unfortunately, our controlling statute, D.C. Code §1-1101.01 et seq. does not specifically address the use of government property.

However, D.C. Official Code §1-618.01(a) (2001 Edition) provides that “[e]ach employee of the District government must at all times maintain a high level of ethical conduct in connection with the performance of official duties, and shall refrain from taking, ordering, or participating in any official action which would adversely affect the confidence of the public in the integrity of the District government”.

District Personnel Manual (DPM) § 1806.1 states that “[a] District employee shall not use or permit the use of government property, equipment, or material of any kind, including that acquired through lease, for other than officially approved purposes. An employee has a positive duty to protect and conserve government property, including such equipment, supplies, materials, and other items as may be issued or entrusted to him or her. Nothing in this subsection, however, shall serve to prohibit the following:

(a) The acceptance of any material, article, or service which is available as part of any D.C. government program properly being dispensed or provided free to D.C. residents or visitors to the District;

(b) The use of District facilities or equipment by recognized employee groups for authorized off-duty training or meeting purposes;

(c) The use of government facilities or equipment under circumstances which do not increase the maintenance cost of such resources, for example, the use of existing library materials or government-purchased books is not prohibited …” (Emphasis Added).

In addition, DPM 1804.1(b) provides in pertinent part that “[a]n employee may not engage in any outside employment or activity which is not compatible with the full and proper discharge of his or her duties and responsibilities as a government employee, activities or actions which are not compatible with government employment includes, but are not limited to, the following;

“… (b) Using government time and services for other than official business, or government approved or sponsored activities, except that a District employee may spend a reasonable amount of government time and resources on such projects, reports, and studies as may be considered in aid of other government jurisdictions (local, state, or federal), provided the work so performed is within the scope of the individual’s regular assignments as a District employee.” (Emphasis Added).

Based on the forgoing, the use of government time, services or resources is not prohibited when there is a government approved or sponsored activity.

Consistent therewith, D.C. Code § 1-1001.05(a)(2) provides that “[t]he Board shall … [t]ake whatever action is necessary and appropriate to actively locate, identify, and register qualified voters …”.

Additionally, D.C. Code § 1-1001.05(a) (12) provides that the Board shall “[t]ake all reasonable steps to inform all residents and voters of elections and means of casting votes therein….”

Thus, if it can be demonstrated that a significant aspect of the mission of the Board will be advanced by allowing private and public entities to use its voting equipment while conducting private elections and voting demonstrations, use of the equipment with the supervision of Board employees may be permissible.

Accordingly, that connection with the Board’s mission would constitute “an officially approved purpose” within the meaning of DPM 1806.1.

Therefore, based upon the information you have provided, it is the opinion of the Office of Campaign Finance that authorizing the use of voting equipment by private and public entities for private elections for purposes outlined above would be appropriate.