IT LOOKS like there will be an election this year in the District for the city’s attorney general, which until now has been an appointed position. But how democratic the contest will be remains very much up in the air.
A proposal is being floated that would essentially allow party insiders to select candidates for the Nov. 4 ballot. The D.C. Council should summarily reject this misbegotten idea. Let the city’s independent elections board set the rules for a fair and orderly contest.
The election for attorney general has been an on-again, off-again affair. District voters in 2010 overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment that made the position elected and called for it to be on the 2014 ballot. The council last year voted to delay the election until 2018, but on June 4 the D.C. Court of Appeals said the council had no authority to do that. The court ordered an election this year unless election officials showed it was not practical, in which case the poll was to be held as soon as possible in 2015.
With Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan vowing to appeal and even opposing expedited review by the lower court to which the court of appeals had returned the case , it was unclear what would happen. So it was good to see some common sense from the D.C. Board of Elections, which on Friday allowed candidates for attorney general to pick up nominating petitions for the fall election. Mr. Nathan, though, sees a problem: The charter amendment specifies that the elections be partisan and that, he has argued, has historically required party primaries.
Since there isn’t time for a primary (whose fault is that?), Mr. Nathan has proposed emergency legislation allowing parties to select their nominees through whatever “alternative procedures . . . the party selects.” Council members have told us they understand this to be either a vote by the party’s central committee or a party caucus. Either way it smacks of a coronation and not the popularly elected attorney general voters had envisioned.
Let’s hope the elections board, whose chairman wrote a letter to Mr. Nathan expressing concerns about the fairness of his proposal, sticks with the rules used for special elections in which candidates qualify for the ballot by collecting the required number of signatures and identifying their party affiliation. Let’s hope the council has the sense to support, and not interfere with, the judgment of election officials. And let’s hope Mr. Nathan realizes that further impeding this election doesn’t serve the interests of his client, the residents of the District.