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The District of Columbia City Council has unanimously approved a bill that will once again move DC’s primary date – a move they say is permanent after several shifts in the last few voting cycles. WAMU has more:
The D.C. Council voted on Tuesday to shift the primary election date from the first Tuesday in September to the third Tuesday in June, in an effort to comply with federal regulations requiring the distribution of absentee ballots in a timely manner.
Between the primary and general elections, the Board of Elections must certify the election results, allow time for recounts or legal challenges, and print and mail ballots to registered D.C. voters who live around the world. Under federal law, the District must mail ballots to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before Election Day, to give them time to cast their ballots in the November general election.
“With the currently scheduled primary election date,” said Councilman Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who introduced the legislation, “the Board would be left with less than two days to complete this entire process.”
Holding the primary in June, after the school year finishes, will allow the Board to use schools as polling sites without interrupting learning, Allen said. The date also avoids holding an election during July and August, when many city residents leave town for summer vacations.
The primary has been a moving target recently, as WAMU’s summary shows:
- 2010: Last time D.C. held its primary in September.
- 2012: Primary held on April 3
- 2013: D.C. Council debates changing day of primary, though no action taken.
- 2014: Primary held on April 1, but D.C. Council later passes bill moving primary to June for 2016 and September for 2018.
- 2016: Primary held on June 14.
- 2017: D.C. Council passes bill undoing move to September for 2018, instead settling on June.
While no members of the council voted against the change, there is some skepticism and frustration with the city Board of Elections:
Despite the unanimous vote, two Council members voiced concerns over the legislation. Chairman Phil Mendelson said he’s “disappointed” in the change, and criticized the Board of Elections.
“Even though the Board of Elections told us they could, in fact, handle a [September] primary, apparently the Board is now saying that’s not possible,” he said prior to the vote. “I suspect the Board was being unrealistic when it made those promises.” He noted that an earlier primary constricts the amount of time candidates and challengers have to campaign, and increases the length of lame duck terms.
Councilman Kenyan McDuffie, (D-Ward 5) echoed those concerns, and added that moving the primary could hurt voter turnout. “In a time when we should be making every effort to increase our electorate, and increase the opportunities for people to vote,” he said, “continuing to move the date I don’t think is helpful to that.”
The council will have another opportunity to vote on the change before it is sent to the Mayor for her signature. Hopefully, the city will be able to settle on this new date and take steps to ensure that DC is ready to conduct its primary successfully in June 2018 and going forward.
Stay tuned …