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Will it be April 1? Or maybe mid-May? The first week of June, possibly?
For now, the date of D.C.'s 2014 primary is up in the air. Though the D.C. Board of Elections has scheduled it for April 1—no joke—legislators and activists debated yesterday whether it should be changed to June, or possibly some other date.
Proponents of the idea say that it would offer a respite to candidates that are now forced to campaign in the dead of the winter months, as well as cutting down on the lame-duck period between the primary and the November general election. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) said that he doesn't think that April is an "optimal date" for a primary.
Opponents aren't so keen on changing the date, though, noting that it was only in 2011 that D.C. switched from a longstanding September primary to an April one, a move intended to bring the city into compliance with a federal law facilitating absentee balloting for overseas voters. Additionally, they say, changing the date now—with 10 months to go until the April primary—would smack of changing the rules in the middle of the game.
"To me, that doesn't send the right message to the electorate who wants some predictability on when their elections will be," said Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) at a hearing yesterday.
But even among those pushing for a new date, there isn't agreement on when would work best. D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan said Mayor Vince Gray likes June, but D.C. Board of Elections Executive Director Clifford Tatum would be more comfortable with mid-May, putting a possible primary in the middle of the council's budget negotiations. Everyone agreed on one thing—the primary should not happen in July or August.
Even more confusing, some civic activists want D.C. to separate its presidential and local primaries again. Prior to 2012, the two were held on different dates, but some are now saying that they shouldn't have to coincide. For skeptics, though, that would mean more money that D.C. would have to spend and lower turnout for the local primary, especially during a presidential election year.
Whichever way it goes, D.C. officials have to choose—and stick with—one date. "We don't need to be changing back and forth," said Dorothy Brizill, executive director of D.C. Watch.
Until then, the uncertainty over the primary date has creeped its way into at least one local campaign.
"I certainly could have invested in [campaign] materials with a date on it," said Bowser, who is running for mayor, one of the elected offices that will be decided next year.