The District would permanently shift its primary elections to late June — ending years of struggle by city officials to comply with federal requirements for mailing ballots to voters overseas — under legislation D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) plans to introduce Tuesday.
Allen’s bill would establish the third Tuesday in June as D.C.’s primary election date, beginning in 2018 — a closely watched election year in which the primary campaign will likely decide a number of high-profile citywide races, including the next mayoral contest.
The legislation is meant to put an end to a protracted period in which city officials have shuffled the primary across the calendar to avoid breaking federal law, which requires that general-election ballots be sent to overseas voters at least 45 days before election day.
“We have kind of created this seesaw effect,” Allen said. “I think it’s a good thing for the voters, and for democracy, to have a little bit of predictability.”
According to the city’s existing election laws, the primary is supposed to be held the first Tuesday in September. Under that timeline, the D.C. Board of Elections has struggled to meet the deadline for mailing ballots to military and overseas voters.
D.C. Board of Elections Chairman D. Michael Bennett said a September primary did not leave enough time to finalize the primary results — a process that includes certifying the election results, counting provisional ballots and allowing for recounts or legal challenges — before printing and mailing a general-election ballot to voters abroad.
“For us to actually get there, and get it done in time to comply with the law, then we’d have to cut a lot of different things short,” Bennett said. “You actually start to — not throw due process out the window — but get pretty close.”
For the past six years, city officials have set ad hoc primary dates to stay ahead of the curve. Primary voters went to the polls the first Tuesday in April in 2012 and 2014, and the second Tuesday in June in 2016.
Allen said he settled on the third Tuesday in June as a suitable date for the primary because it comes before July and August — when many Washingtonians leave town — and allows for heavy campaigning during the spring rather than in the winter.
By contrast, a primary election earlier in the year would force candidates to campaign during the coldest months — potentially a disadvantage for challengers who depend on door-to-door campaigning to reach voters.
“It’s really hard to be able to talk to voters... in the dead of winter,” Allen said.
Allen, chairman of the council’s judiciary committee, said he planned to introduce the legislation at the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday. It is not yet clear whether the bill will face opposition.