D.C.'s September primary likely to be its last
Last Tuesday, the District of Columbia held its 19th September primary election. It may well have been the last.
According to the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (aka MOVE), passed by Congress last year, seven weeks just isn't long enough to certify the primary results, print general-election ballots, send them out to voters abroad and allow the now-requisite 45 days to make the round trip in time for the official count. The Post's Tim Craig detailed the issues at stake in March.
Thus the District -- along with nine states, including Maryland -- are being forced to move their primaries up. This year, the city has gotten special dispensation from the Justice Department to hold the primary as usual, although overseas voters will have seven days longer than regular absentee voters to get their ballots mailed.
Any move would seriously disrupt the biennial rhythms of District politicking -- yard signs sprouting in spring, signature-gathering in June, the Palisades Parade on the Fourth of July, the long grind of block parties and street festivals under the hot August sun.
And, because there appears to be some hesitancy to hold the primary in the summer months, the primary seems likely to be moved back to June. That, in this Democratically dominated town, raises the prospect of six-month lame ducks. In other words, it may become a regular occurrence for mayors and council members to serve one-eighth of their terms after the voters have decided that they no longer want them there.
There's another hazard to good governance: Harry Thomas Jr., the Ward 5 D.C. Council member, points out that elected officials currently take full advantage of the council's two-month summer recess to do their campaigning. With elections in June, council incumbents will have to somehow juggle budget season and reelection campaigns. "It's that much harder," Thomas says. "You won't have your recess time any more."
But Mary Cheh, the D.C. Council member who chairs the committee overseeing elections, says that something must be done. "We're going to have to have a hearing or maybe even a series of hearings about what to do about this," she said. "We have to comply. That's the bottom line."
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