AS HE took to the stage Tuesday night to concede defeat in the District’s Democratic primary, Mayor Vincent C. Gray felt the need to mention the night’s delay in reporting election results. “We’ve got some work to do there,” he said of the D.C. Board of Elections. “We probably have known that for a while.”
Indeed. So woeful was the performance of election officials that it competed with Muriel Bowser’s upset of Mr. Gray for the morning’s headlines. Even more distressing is that this was not the first time the District has been embarrassed or its residents inconvenienced by the amateurish operation of its elections office. In the 2010 mayoral primary, it took nearly six hours for election officials to tally returns. In the 2008 presidential primary, officials ran out of paper ballots; in a city primary later that year, officials found discrepancies in vote tallies in two D.C. Council races.
Despite a historically low voter turnout, which should have eased the tabulating and reporting of results, voters had to wait four hours after polls closed before receiving any meaningful results. “Unusually lengthy” and “chaotic” was how Post reporters described the delays in posting returns and the confusion about whether the numbers were accurate. Problems with electronic voting machines and inadequately trained personnel were the explanations offered by election officials.
It was not the kind of performance that inspires confidence in the democratic process. Imagine the problems that would have occurred if the election had been close and the outcome called into dispute. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who chairs the committee with oversight of the board, told us he plans to hold a hearing on April 29 about what went wrong. More important is making the fixes necessary to ensure that future ballots — starting with November’s general election — are handled more expeditiously.
Tuesday’s election surfaced other issues that should be addressed. That includes distressingly low turnout, which may have stemmed from voters’ unfamiliarity with the unusual April schedule as well as more general disaffection with city elections. Reforms proposed by D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) to allow for open primaries and for ranked choice in voting, also known as instant-runoff elections, would go a long way toward stimulating voter participation. We urge the council to examine those ideas and to review whether an April primary best serves the public’s interest.