D.C. Council will vote Wednesday on changing primary election date


If Mendelson’s bill succeeds, voters may get an extra seven weeks to vet mayor and council candidates. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

Three weeks after a proposal to change the date of next year’s primary election appeared to be bottled up in a D.C. Council committee, lawmakers are poised to decide the matter Wednesday.

The decision by Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) to move an emergency bill changing the election date from April 1 to June 10 sidesteps the normal legislative process. A bill introduced in April by Mendelson and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) has been unable to move to the full council, with at least three of the five members of the Government Operations committee opposing it.

Emergency legislation is only temporarily in effect but does not have to move through a council committee. It requires a two-thirds vote of the council to pass, meaning nine members would have to support the election measure if all 13 members vote Wednesday, at the final council legislative meeting before the summer recess.

In a memorandum sent to council members and staff Friday, Mendelson cited “multiple reasons justifying this change, including: avoiding the need to campaign – including petition gathering – during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season; reducing the duration of lame duck status for retiring or defeated incumbents; increasing voter participation which is likely to  be greater in June than in April; and reducing the pro-incumbent dynamic inherent in an early primary.”

From 1974 until 2010, the District’s local primaries were held in early September. But a change in federal law meant the city had to move in 2011 to put more time between its primary and general elections in order to allow overseas voters more time to receive and return absentee ballots. Last year’s debut April primary was met with dismal candidate reviews and lagging voter participation.

Mendelson said in the memo that he has “spoken with numerous individuals and believe there is widespread support for this change in the community.” But several council members — including Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who intends to appear on the ballot as a mayoral candidate — have criticized the proposal, saying it amounts to changing the rules in the middle of the game.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · July 8, 2013