Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) could unilaterally appoint two new members to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics - effectively giving his appointees control of the three-member board charged with overseeing the Sept. 14 Democratic primary - if he and the council are unable to agree on consensus candidates, according to City Administrator Neil O. Albert.
In a letter to council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) on Wednesday, Albert said Attorney General Peter Nickles has "opined that in emergency circumstances," the mayor "has the authority to make interim appointments to boards and commissions."
"If the council does not wish to meet during recess, the mayor would be willing to consider this power," Albert wrote.
On Wednesday, D.C. Wire reported that Erroll Arthur, chairman of the elections board, will step aside Aug. 2 to take another job. Arthur's departure will paralyze the board because the council and the mayor have not agreed on replacement for Lenora Cole, the minority party board member who resigned in February 2009. With two of the three board seats vacant, the board will not have the quorum needed to oversee the Sept. 14 primary election between Fenty and his leading opponent, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray without at least one new member.
Hoping to avoid a nasty, politics-laced showdown between Gray and Fenty over the new nominees, Catania and council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) are trying to broker two compromise candidates, one of whom would have to be a member of the minority party.
But in his letter to Catania, Albert indicated that the mayor might not nominate whom Cheh and Catania suggest.
"I am in receipt of the names you recommended for the vacancies on the Board of Elections and Ethics," he wrote. "Once I've reviewed your submitted names with the mayor, I'll add them to the list of individuals already being considered for this appointment."
Given that his name will be on the ballot, any effort by Fenty to place his nominees on the board without council approval would almost certainly fuel the already explosive squabbling between Fenty and Gray supporters over concerns about the potential for election fraud.
The board, if it is functioning, will be charged with overseeing the city's new early voting and same-day registration laws. Concerned that they could open the door to fraud, some Gray supporters have asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to monitor the election. The board would also oversee a possible recount if the Fenty-Gray race is not settled on primary day.