IN LIGHT of this year’s dismal turnout for the D.C. primary, which was held in April, the D.C. Council is right to revisit the election calendar to determine the best time to hold future elections. But in its haste to push the 2016 primary for local offices to September, council members are ignoring a host of problems that could undermine voter participation further. A far more sensible plan would be to take advantage of the anticipated interest in that year’s presidential primary and have balloting for both national and local contests on the same day.
The council has given tentative approval, with a final vote set for Tuesday, to a measure that would set the first Tuesday in September as the primary date for mayor, council and other local elections. The presidential primary would, under this plan, be held in June and the general election would, as usual, be in November.
The measure was a reaction to this year’s April primary, which was universally derided. In addition to the poor voter turnout — the lowest in three decades — candidates complained about the difficulty of campaigning during the winter months. Another result was a lengthy lame-duck period for incumbents, including Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who lost their April contests but remain in office until January.
The move to September, however, presents its own problems. Voting would occur the day after Labor Day, creating a risk that the holiday would interfere with interest in the election. Election officials warned of difficulty in meeting requirements of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act that mandates absentee ballots be sent to soldiers overseas 45 days before an election. Then there is voter fatigue — three elections within six months — and the cost of holding an extra election, about $2 million.
A better alternative, being advanced by council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), would be to hold both the local and presidential primaries in June. Not only would that save the city money and eliminate the technical issues that worry election officials, but it also would be likely to attract more voters. We urge the council to take this more sensible approach.