Since the 1982 elections, there has been considerable discussion about ways to get the District's election process to work efficiently and fairly. One proposal should be abandoned decisively and quickly: that the election of advisory neighborhood commissioners and board of education members, scheduled for this November, be postponed. Such a suggestion is not only without merit; it is also harmful to the hard-won voting rights of the citizens of the District.
This nation was founded on the belief that public officials should be elected by the public they serve. During the more than 200 years of our history as a nation, a continuing battle has been waged to expand the definition of the "public" entitled to vote. When the U.S. Constitution went into effect, most areas of the country lim- ited the right to vote to white male landown- ers over the age of 21. Today this right to vote has been expanded to include all adult U.S. citizens, without regard to race, sex or property ownership.
The battle of the right to vote has met with less success and been of longer duration in the District. District citizens were not granted the right to vote for president and vice president until 1961; members of the board of education un- til 1968; a delegate to Congress until 1970; and mayor, council members and advisory neighborhood commissioners until 1974. And even with these gains, the District has a long way to go: the mayor and council are not autonomous-- all their legislation must be reviewed by Con- gress, and all city budgets must be enacted by Congress; District citizens may not elect voting members of Congress--neither senators nor representatives.
With so much that needs to be corrected, the gains made to date are important and should not lightly be given up. To suggest that District citizens be forced to forgo voting in an election because of "administrative" problems at the Board of Elections and Ethics is a slap in the face to all those who have worked so hard to obtain the limited voting rights we have and who continue to work for their expansion. A government that keeps public officials in office after their terms have expired, without their re-election by the people they serve, is no democracy. A government that seeks to excuse such action on the grounds of its own ineptitude lacks the moral force to justify his continuance.
District residents and government officials, myself included, have long denied assertions that the District is unable to manage its own affairs. Actions are now proceeding to obtain a constitutional amendment to provide the District with full representation in Congress and to confer statehood upon the District. What credibility can we possibly expect when government officials publicly proclaim our inability to carry out the most basic of governmental functions--holding an election?
The District government owes a duty to its citizens to hold all regularly scheduled elections and to conduct such elections in an efficient and fair manner. Fulfilling this duty may not always be easy. It may require extra effort, long hours of work and some hard decisions, but it can and it must be done. There is no excuse for not holding the November 1983 election. There is no emergency that precludes its being held. The problems with the election process in the District are not new. We have known about them for a long time. What is needed now is less talk, less ef- fort directed at avoiding the problems, and more effort directed at solving them. If the U.S. government could hold presidential elections in the midst of the Civil War and World War II, what possible impediment can there be to the District's holding a regularly scheduled election on time?