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Posted at 04:00 PM ET, 01/07/2011

D.C. Democrats secretly select Biddle

Despite national party rules forbidding "secret ballots," District Democrats may never know what members of their party's leadership are responsible for Sekou Biddle's temporary appointment to the D.C. Council.

Biddle is expected to be sworn in Friday afternoon after the D.C. Democratic State Committee selected him over former council member Vincent Orange to fill a vacant at-large seat on the council.

The vacancy was created after Kwame Brown (D) gave up his at-large seat to become council chairman. After some uncertainty last fall over how to fill the vacancy, the D.C. Democratic State Committee decided to take advantage of a provision of the code that allows a party committee to appoint a successor until a special election can be held in late April.

In recent weeks, some advocates and activists questioned why several dozen party insiders should have the final say on who will represent all District residents on the council for the next four months.

But party leaders stressed in the days leading up to the vote that the process would be open, stating that Democratic voters would be represented through the votes cast by committee members from their wards.

During the vote, which required three rounds of balloting before Biddle won a majority, each of the 74 members were suppose to receive a numbered ballot. The numbers on the ballots would later be connected with members' names, allowing officials to keep track of how a member voted.

From the start of the voting process, however, it was clear that committee members preferred a secret ballot.

Most members interviewed by The Washington Post declined to say who they were voting for. Reporters were also kept out of meetings where certain members caucused and bartered with candidates and elected officials over whom to vote for.

After the meeting, party leaders promised that an accounting of the vote would be released Friday.

But Ronnie Edwards, the committee member who oversaw the voting process, said in brief interview Friday morning that an accurate accounting of how a member voted could not be obtained.

"It was so confusing in there, they were not able to keep completely accurate records," Edwards said. "I am not sure we are going to be able to provide evidence of every vote and how they voted in that kind of detailed way."

Edwards added that party leaders fear members could be susceptible to "intimidation" if their ballots were not considered secret.

With Orange and Biddle locked in a close race, committee members said they were inundated with pressure from both sides. As Thursday's balloting dragged on, Brown and other council members also started working the room to try to round up additional support for Biddle.

"We maintained openness in the process in that we had a ballot and recorded the ballot," Edwards said. "But we really did not do a good job of trying to track people's votes because we did not want anyone to be threatened or intimidated for exercising their right to vote."

Although it's debatable whether the local party should follow the lead of the national party, Democratic National Committee bylaws state "all meetings ... and all other party committees, commissions and bodies shall be open to the public and votes shall not be taken by secret ballot."

The rule appears designed to assure that state parties select national committee members and delegates in an open manner.

But D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said she was surprised when she was unable to find out Thursday night which committee members voted for which candidate.

"When someone called last night and said people had switched (from Orange to Biddle), I said, 'Who are they?' " Cheh recalled. "They said, 'They didn't know cause it was a secret ballot. ...My instincts are, 'Gee I ought to be able to know that.' "

Paul Craney, executive director of the D.C. Republican Committee, said the local GOP supports allowing a local committee to name a replacement when a member of that party gives up an at-large council seat.

Craney said the local GOP members often use secret ballots or voice votes to elect party officials. But Craney questioned whether it would use the same procedure if it ever gets the opportunity to name a replacement council member.

"It's a tough call," Craney said. "If we were in that situation, I am not sure what we would do, but I think we would be sensitive to the fact you are ... electing a council member who is representing the entire city, so maybe there should be some accountability for who voted how."

By  |  04:00 PM ET, 01/07/2011

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