The D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations and the Environment knocked down amendments that would have allowed unaffiliated voters to register with a party and vote in the Sept. 14 election at the last minute.
This year's primary will usher in several new laws -- from same-day registration to early voting to no-excuse absentee voting -- that have loosened restrictions on voters.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's campaign has interpreted the new laws to mean that voters listing "no party" when registering can register the same day with a party and vote in the primary.
Though the Fenty campaign says the general counsel of the Board of Elections and Ethics agreed with the interpretation in July, the elections board ruled Aug. 12 that unaffiliated voters would not be able to switch parties at the last minute and vote in the primary.
The board is holding a special meeting Wednesday to reconsider its decision at the request of the Fenty campaign, which is arguing that such voters have cast ballots in past primaries and that the board's Aug. 12 ruling gave little time for such voters to choose a party by an Aug. 16 deadline.
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairman of the Government Operations Committee, said the council had no intention of creating an "open primary" and had already voted down such amendments to the omnibus bill that established the new elections laws.
Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have allowed a voter registered as an independent, or no party, to vote in the primary election of a political party if the party permitted.
He also offered an amendment that would have allowed a "qualified elector" to change party affiliation after the 30th day preceding an election and on the same day as an election.
"That wasn't meant to be," Cheh said of allowing unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in the primary, "nor was it an open door for an open primary."
She said registering as "no party ... in effect, is a declaration that you are not in a party."
"Your commitment has to be made ahead of time. You can't be a floater. That was not part of this legislation," she said. "That's reaffirmed by the amendments that were voted down."