Primary Date Set to Change in 2015

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By C.N. Staff Writer

Now that the Democratic primary is over, some councilmembers want the primary date changed. This year the April 1st primary came as a surprise to many who were used to a September primary, when the council voted to change the date last summer. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who ran an unsuccessful Democratic mayoral bid, introduced legislation that would include four big changes to city elections. Evans’ bill would move the primary from April to the second Tuesday in June and establish a separate presidential primary in March to get around federal overseas voting requirements
move the city’s primary to the second Tuesday in June. “April 1st did not work. We found ourselves in the harshest winter in many, many years trying to campaign,” he said.

Evans’ bill would make four major changes to District elections. First, it would move elections from April to June to give the candidates more time to whiten their teeth and practice smiling and move the presidential primary to March. At the same time, non-party voters could vote in the primary elections, should the bill pass.

The bill also would reset the donor maximum after the primaries so that candidates can receive an additional $2,000 from donors during the general election campaigning. Evans argued that a $2,000 cap on the entire campaigning process is unfair to Democratic campaigners, who have a much more expensive primary campaign than an Independent candidate like David Catania, according to City Paper.

Finally the bill would create an election debate commission, allowing civil groups to apply to host debates. Election season comes with many council and mayoral debates. Oftentimes candidates cannot make each one because many overlap days and times and other times there are multiple primaries in the same community and ward, sometimes within days of each other. This election debate commission would allow more strategic planning of the debate schedule to take place so candidates can adequately plan out their schedules.

The April date came about after D.C. was forced to abandon its traditional September primary due to a federal law strengthening protections for absentee voters. Lawmakers chose April because they wanted the local primary to coincide with the presidential primary; that way, they reasoned, turnout would be highest. Of course, presidential elections only happen every four years, leaving D.C. with an awkwardly early primary during off-year elections.

Last summer when the council voted for the primary change Council Chairmen Phil Mendelson said, “I don’t think anybody liked it, and for multiple reasons. Forcing everyone to campaign during winter is difficult,” he said. “it is not good practice to have lame ducks in office for eight months.” And now this is the case. Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser won the Democratic primary and Mayor Gray is into his eight-month lame duck session.

The primary date change would be the second one made by the council in the past two years. Prior to 2012, the District held its local primaries in early September.

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