From Alden Leonard. Contact him at alden[AT]borderstan.com and follow him @aldenleonard on Twitter.
Heads up! In a break with tradition, DC’s city primary has been moved up from fall to spring, and will take place next Tuesday, April 3. The primary was moved to coincide with the presidential primary in DC. Voters will pick the party nominees for the November 6 general election in four DC Council Wards, the Democratic nominee for an At-Large Council seat, and vote in the Democratic and Republican Party primaries for President.
Moreover, DC’s primary elections are “closed,” which means you must be registered as either a Democrat, Republican or Statehood Green Party member to vote on Tuesday (the huge majority of DC voters are registered Democrats). If you are registered as an Independent, you cannot vote on April 3. Some voters will be voting in new precincts, new wards and new ANC districts, following DC redistricting after the 2010 Census.
The change to one primary day comes as the District tries to adhere to federal election law, which mandates that absentee voters (such as deployed military personnel) receive their ballots at least 45 days ahead of the November elections.
This requirement created a time crunch for the District, which typically holds its primaries in early September. In order to avoid holding the primary during the summer months, when many voters are out of town, DC officials opted to move the contests back to the Spring.
Critics say the drastic move gives incumbents an unfair advantage. Challengers must begin registering, financing, and publicizing their campaigns nearly a year before the elections, when few voters (or donors) are interested. Now, with many voters still unaware that primaries are just days away, candidates gain a foothold in a race that is a de-facto general election, since three-quarters of DC voters are registered as Democrats.
One upside to the change is that it consolidates DC’s primaries to a single day. As recently as four years ago, the Presidential primaries were held in April (well in advance of the summer nominating conventions) and primaries for District offices such as Mayor, and City Council members did not occur until September.
Locally, incumbent Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) is running unopposed in the April 3 primary, while Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) is not up for re-election this year.
Process of Selecting Democratic Convention Delegates
Even so, the combined dates probably won’t do much to alleviate any confusion that non-political residents may have about the selection of DC’s convention delegates, a process that is already well underway. In fairness to DC, the process for selecting delegates to the national conventions of the two big parties is complicated and often involves numerous steps in all the states and territories of the U.S.
On March 3, the DC Democratic Party selected its first 14 delegates in a pre-primary caucus. Democratic voters selected seven male and seven female District-level Delegate-nominees, as well as one Alternate-nominee to be part of DC’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention in early September in Charlotte.
This caucus was the only point at which DC voters had a direct say in forming the delegation; the votes cast in the upcoming April 3 primary won’t affect which delegates are chosen, only who the delegates support come September (not a difficult guess as President Obama is running unopposed for the nomination).
The rest of the delegation selection process happens among party insiders and DC officials. In early May, the DC Democratic State Committee will choose its Pledged PLEO (Party Add-on) and At-Large Delegates, as well as several Unpledged (or Automatic) Delegates. Unpledged Delegates are DNC members or other national party figures who have been pre-arranged by the DNC to represent the District. This year’s Unpledged Democratic Delegates will include Mayor Vincent Gray, U.S. House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and DC’s two unofficial shadow senators.
The total delegation of 44 members will travel to Charlotte in September to be part of the Convention nominating President Obama. To learn more about the delegate selection process, you may want to consult this chart on the DC Democratic Party’s website.
Perhaps this seems like a lot of effort, thought and money being spent to nominate someone who is, for all intents and purposes, already the inevitable choice. But as former ANC 1B commissioner and delegate candidate Brianne Nadeau reminds us, in an underrepresented community such as ours, it is the symbolism behind the vote that counts.
“Without full participation in the electoral process, we will never have full representation,” Nadeau says.
President Barack Obama will be the only name on the Democratic presidential primary ballot. On the Republican side, the choices are Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and John Huntsman (who dropped out of the race). Sorry, folks, Rick Santorum won’t be on the GOP ballot here.
Democratic Delegate Timeline Process
For your reference, here’s a timeline of the delegate selection process:
- February 17, 2012 – Deadline for candidates to qualify for District-level delegates or Alternate Delegate Candidates file a “Statement of Candidacy” and sign pledge with the DC Democratic State Committee designating support for their presidential candidate of choice.
- February 20, 2012 – State Party provides a list of District-level Delegates and Alternate candidates to the respective Presidential candidates.
- February 24, 2012 – Presidential candidates provide a list of approved District-level Delegate and Alternate
- March 1, 2012 – Last day for DNC to notify DC State Chair of names of Unpledged Delegates (DNC members)
- March 3, 2012 – Delegate candidate selection at the Pre-primary Caucus
- April 3, 2012 – Democratic Presidential Preference Primary
- April 17, 2012 – DC Board of Elections and Ethics certifies results of the primary; pre-slated District-level Delegates and Alternates are allocated according to presidential preference vote.
- April 23, 2012 – State Party certifies elected 14 District-level Delegates and one Alternate to the Secretary of the Democratic National Committee.
- May 3, 2012 – DC State Committee Meeting to choose Pledged PLEO (Party Add-on) and At-Large Delegates and Alternate Delegate.
- June 17, 2012 – Last day for DC State Chair to inform DNC Secretary of presidential preferences of Unpledged Delegates.
- September 3-7, 2012 – Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.