Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) elections "have been a unique form of disaster . . . from an administrative standpoint," said Emmett Fremaux Jr., executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. "They haven't been conducted effectively because the requirements to conduct them have been a great deal more complicated than ordinary elections."
ANCs were established in 1976. There are 37 ANCs, divided into a total of 323 Single Member Districts (SMDs), each consisting roughly of 2,000 residents. Each single member district is represented on the larger neighborhood commissions.
The function of the ANCs is to advise the city government on policy issues that affect their respective neighborhoods.
The statute creating the neighborhood commissions originally called for ANC elections to be held in odd-numbered years. But ANC elections had to be cancelled last year, after the 1980 Census made the previous ANC-SMD boundaries obsolete. The necessary data had not been completely updated in time for the 1983 elections.
ANC elections held in the past have had checkered results. Part of the confusion, Fremaux said, resulted from lack of "a reliable data base." Maps used in the past didn't have complete street addresses, he noted, leaving many residents -- and elections officials -- baffled as to which Single Member District voters were assigned to.
As a result, much of Fremaux's time in recent months has been spent with the District's planning office, the Council of Governments, outside contractors, even going through real estate records and old city square street maps, in an attempt to assign reliable street numbers to every block in D.C.
Now, a master set of eight ward maps exist that are broken down into precincts, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and Single Member Districts.
From these base maps, the Board of Elections compiled a master street address index matched with registered voters, which designates the appropriate ANC and SMD number for each resident. Precinct workers will have printouts of the master street address index on hand at the polling places to help match voters to their proper district and help insure they vote for the ANC candidates for their area.
For voters who have received updated registration cards by mail in recent weeks, the ANC and SMD numbers are listed at the top of the card.
Despite the more thorough records and much advance planning by the elections board, the ANC elections will still be "a logistical nightmare," Fremaux said. The Single Member Districts are divided into a crazy quilt of shapes that zigzag within each ANC division -- sometimes crossing precinct lines. Some precincts have as many as eight pieces of SMDs within their boundaries. Workers at the polling places will have to make sure voters get the proper ballot for their correct ANC-SMD election.
The redistricting also has caused 36 incumbent ANC commissioners to be pitted against one another this year in their Single Member Districts. Nearly 450 candidates are running in ANC races on Nov. 6, although 44 SMDs have no candidates for the single seats.
City officials hope the new maps, improved voter registration records and more public information will increase interest in the ANCs, which Fremaux calls "a unique exercise in participatory democracy." The City Council already has passed legislation calling for the ANC elections to be held in even-numbered years along with other elections, which also should help boost voter turnout for ANC elections.
"Both the candidates and the electorate have to be informed," Fremaux said, noting that part of the Board of Elections' legal mandate is to inform and educate voters about the various races. "If you're having an election and there are no candidates, it takes away from the credibility of the entire election process," he added.
The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has published a Fact Sheet on Advisory Neighborhood Commissions that outlines the functions of ANCs and gives the legal qualifications for prospective ANC commissioner candidates. Interested voters can obtain a copy from the elections board, at Room 7, District Building, 14th and E streets NW, D.C. 20004, or by calling 727-2525.