From September to April and back: The D.C. Council approved a change to the city's primary date, the second change in the last three years.
The date of the District's local primary election is changing — again.
The D.C. Council today gave final approval to a bill changing the city's primary date from April to September, backtracking on a 2011 move that changed the date from September to April.
Under the bill introduced by Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) in May 2013, the local primary will move to June in 2016 and September in 2018. The city's presidential preference primary will move to June in 2016, where it will remain.
McDuffie said that phasing in the date change would allow the D.C. Board of Elections to adjust its schedules and operations, as well as prepare for the costs of implementing the changes.
The move comes amidst long-simmering complaints that the April primary forced candidates to campaign in the depths of the winter and left incumbents who lost their re-election bids to face a seven-month-long lame duck period.
McDuffie and others said that the early primary also depressed voter turnout. The April 1 primary in which Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser defeated Mayor Vincent Gray saw turnout of only 27 percent.
To allow the city to remain compliant with a federal law requiring a certain amount of time between primary and general elections, the bill also shortens the period that voters can return absentee ballots. It also cuts the number of early voting sites from eight to four.
And though elections officials supported scrapping the April primary date — which they said confused voters long accustomed to voting in September — they did warn that changing the primary date again could once again confuse voters in upcoming election years.