A task force assigned by the D.C. City Council to study the city's election process has concluded that the frequency of primaries and other elections in Washington induces "voter apathy," and the panel recommended eliminating both the September primary and all off-year school board elections.
The task force also recommended the "re-registration of all voters, to facilitate computerization of voter registration records." Re-registration of voters would be no more costly than transfer of current voter information to a computer.
The findings culminate the four-member task force's nearly year-long study of city elections. The still unpublished draft report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, was presented yesterday to the council's Committee on Government Operations, which formed the task force.
Council member William Spaulding (D-Ward 5), who chairs the government operations committee, said yesterday that his panel would review the task force's findings before making any recommendations to the full council.
The task force report was highly critical of the city's election procedures in general. And the group cited what it saw as several faults in procedures of the Elections Board, which came under heavy fire in past elections for being slow in processing voter registration, for foul-ups at polling places and in the counting and certifying of returns.
The Nov. 4 election was relatively free of the kind of trouble that has plagued other elections. But there were complaints, especially from residents living or traveling abroad, that the city was slow in processing mail registrations and requests for absentee ballots.
The task force, chaired by Emanual Lipscomb, a management specialist from the U.S. Census Bureau, concluded that "mail registration applications and notification forms are confusing . . . The [Elections] Board does not take advantage of known methods of keeping registration current, such as checking vital statistics [and] exchanging information with other jurisdictions."
The report said that "overseas Americans and citizens who move to D.C. after registration is closed are extremely frustrated at not being able to vote in a presidential election." The task force recommended that the council consider allowing new voters and overseas to register up to one week before presidential elections. The deadline has varied for previous elections.
On the frequency of elections in the District, the task force report notes that this year alone there was a May presidential primary. September local primaries and the Nov. 4 general election. In addition, school board members are elected in off-year balloting. And now, with the passage of the statehood initiative, there could be an additional election for delegates to the D.C. constitutional convention to draft a state constitution.
"Numerous elections induce voter apathy and are costly," the report said. "The presdiential preference primary in May had a 40 percent turnout, the September party primary had a 12.3 percent turnout, the Board of Education and Advisory Neighborhood Commission election in 1977 had 14.6 percent."
According to the report, the May primary cost an average of $1.68 for each voter. The September primary, with its low turnout, cost $5.26 each.
"Eliminate the September primary," the report recommends. "Hold only a May party primary and move that date later in May or early June." The draft also recommended elimination of party races for state committees and delegates to conventions, and the combining of Board of Education and Advisory Neighborhood Commission races with the general election in even years.