Last week, I reported that leaders of the D.C. Democratic State Committee had quietly decided to end its decades-long practice of electing its members in quadrennial primary elections. Instead, they have proposed selecting members in a party convention likely to take place after next year’s general election, which critics say will benefit party insiders at the expense of rank-and-file Democratic voters.
The party chairwoman and general counsel explained to me and to elections officials that the decision was based on “consultations” with the Democratic National Committee. The DNC, they said, had advised them that the District’s new, earlier primary would interfere with the process of selecting delegates to next September’s national convention.
Not so, a DNC official said last week.
DNC spokesman Alec Gerlach said Friday that national rules contain no preference on whether state or local committees elect their members via a direct election or party convention. And local committees also have great latitude in convention delegate selection; Gerlach said national rules demand only that the process take place within the calendar year of the convention and that an equal number of men and women be selected.
Neither D.C. Chairwoman Anita Bonds nor General Counsel Donald Dinan have provided any correspondence showing that the DNC compelled the decision.
Bonds said Tuesday that the decision to opt out of direct elections, communicated to the Board of Elections and Ethics in an Aug. 16 letter, came after a vote of the party’s executive committee. She reiterated that the change was necessary based on the new April 3 primary date.
”What we are doing at the District level is managing the process based on the change of the primary date,” she said.
Dinan last week said electing party members amid the delegate selection process could throw the process into chaos. “If the other team got elected, they would want to undo everything that had been done, to put in their own people,” he said.
Because local committees have broad discretion in electing their own members, there are other potential ways to avoid conflicting with delegate selection. It would be permissible, for instance, to elect party members in the April primary but seat them only after the convention, Gerlach said. Alternately, the committee could opt to elect members in nonpresidential years, as Maryland’s Democratic party does.
The issue has not been put directly to the D.C. Democratic State Committee’s 80-odd members, and some are agitated that they are learning of a momentous decision months after it was made.
Charles Allen, chairman of the Ward 6 Democrats, said he is in talks with fellow members to present a resolution reversing what he called an “entrenched, insular” decision to end direct elections.
”It’s not what the big-d Democrats should be doing,” he said. “It’s not very small-d democratic.”
But it is unclear if Allen Co. have time to reverse the decision. City political parties were to have submitted their election plans to the Board of Elections and Ethics by Oct. 8, a board spokeswoman said. Even if an exception were made, the election process is rapidly proceeding, and the next DCDSC meeting is scheduled for Dec. 1.
Should the decision be reversed, candidates for party positions would have scarcely a month to collect signatures to get their names on the ballot.