DC for Democracy
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Jesse Lovell, Communications Chair
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
DC for Democracy urges fair, commonsense reforms in at-large council member elections
At the core of DC for Democracy’s mission is promoting good government and the active participation of citizens in our local government. We are accordingly deeply concerned at the prospect of a vacant at-large DC Council seat being temporarily filled by approximately 80 members of the Democratic State Committee using a procedure that is not fair, transparent and accountable.
There are two dimensions to our concern. First, there is DC’s Home Rule Charter, which sensibly allows for voters to replace ward-level councilmembers through special elections, but unwisely allows at-large Council seats to be filled temporarily by political party committees or the Council itself until a special election is held. The Home Rule Charter must be made to treat at-large Council vacancies the same way we treat ward-level Council vacancies, leaving these seats unfilled until DC voters can choose a successor in a special election.
Second, the extraordinary powers granted by the current Home Rule Charter to political party committees in filling vacant at-large Council seats can only be properly exercised if the party committees themselves meet a high standard of transparency and accountability.
First and foremost, the internal procedure by which the party committees fill an at-large Council vacancy must be fair and transparent. Adequate notice of the election must be given, with sufficient time for filing petitions and opportunities for both party committee members and regular voters to learn about the candidates. Voters should be able to communicate their preferences to the party committee members, who are their elected representatives. The procedure followed by the Democratic State Committee has been anything but fair. The election was first announced via press release on November 9th, with the deadline for petitions being November 28th, leaving less than 20 days for the entire process, which was further complicated by the Thanksgiving holiday. Additionally, a candidate can only qualify by getting the support of at least 27 members of the DSC itself, which completely tilts the playing field towards party committee insiders.
Furthermore, since the at-large Council seats are temporarily filled by members of the party committees, the public has a justifiable interest in transparent and accountable procedures for the election of party committee members. Such transparency and accountability are not in evidence today. The current Democratic State Committee members were elected in September 2008 to serve four-year terms, but the same members are still in office as of late November 2012, with no election planned before sometime next year.
The failure of the Democratic State Committee to meet basic standards of fairness and openness is an affront to registered Democrats in the District of Columbia, and we hope voters will hold them accountable by electing reform-minded candidates at the next available opportunity.
In summary, DC for Democracy urges the following:
A modification of the Home Rule Charter, through voter referendum, that will allow at-large Council seats to remain vacant until DC voters can elect a new member in a special election. This will require the Council to pass an amendment to the Charter.
Until the Home Rule Charter is changed, call on all political parties registered in the District of Columbia to reform internal party procedures that have any bearing on the election of at-large Council seats, and to report these procedures to the Board of Elections & Ethics, which should perform an oversight role.
Reform-minded candidates of all political parties should run for elected office to their party committees in order to press for greater fairness and transparency in internal party operations that affect the general public.