The Washington Post

Primary election date change proposal appears to be dead

Voters arrive at Shepherd Elementary School for April’s at-large special election. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

The city’s top elected officials held high hopes that next year’s primary election might be moved from its current date of April 1, via legislation introduced in April by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and subsequently endorsed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

But with at least three of five members of the council’s Government Operations Committee currently opposing the change, it looks as though next year’s primary day will remain April Fools’.

Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), the panel’s chairman and a co-introducer of the bill, confirmed that the measure has insufficient support on his panel. He said Monday that if he can’t get two additional votes by Friday, he won’t move the bill.

Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) oppose the bill. A staff member for Vincent Orange (D-At Large) declined to discuss his position on the matter.

Cheh, notably, wrote the 2011 bill that shifted the primary from September to April in response to a federal law requiring local election authorities to allow sufficient time for overseas voters to cast absentee ballots. The reasons she cited then for moving it all the way up to April — to allow a unified presidential and local primary, and to prevent interference with council budget negotiations — remain just as valid today, her Chief of Staff Jonathan Willingham said Monday.

Bowser, who is likely to be on the primary ballot as a mayoral candidate, said Monday she believed the date should remain in April to maintain “predictability for voters” — not out of any perceived advantage for her mayoral campaign, which she said “will be ready whatever the date is.”

Mendelson said he still plans to talk to members in hopes of getting the bill moving. Asked whether he’d consider pursuing other avenues to change the date — such as through an amendment to another bill or emergency legislation that does not have to move through committee — he said, “I haven’t thought that far.”

If the date remains April 1, the practical effect is that the election is now barely more than nine months away. That’s bad news in particular for Gray, who has yet to indicate whether  he will seek a second term.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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