Posts about BOEE
We hope you enjoyed yesterday's April Fool joke posts on Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. Our April 1 edition was a true team effort, with significant writing, editing, and image creating by Andrew Bossi, Jessica Christy, Tim Krepp, Dan Reed, Miriam Schoenbaum, Jim Titus, and Steven Yates.
Many, many more contributors and volunteers also assisted with ideas to flesh out the articles, concepts for breakfast links, or even helpful submissions we weren't able end up using. Thanks go to Agnès Artemel, Matt Caywood, Shree Chauhan, Neil Flanagan, Steve Glazerman, April January, Matt Johnson, Tracey Johnstone, Sarah Lewis, Dan Malouff, Michael Perkins, Alex Posorske, Ben Ross, Matthew Rumsey, Mitch Wander, Abigail Zenner, and anyone else I've forgotten.
A lot of other local writers had some excellent April Fool articles. John Kelly wrote a fantastic fake history article about a subway in the mid-1800s, called the "Mole Way," which had "stops near the Capitol, the White House, each of the city's markets and an adults-only nude beach near the Tidal Basin" as well as Georgetown and Tysons Corner.
Instead of escalators, people used rotating spiral "spinners" to get down to the stations. But trains entering the station blew off people's hats, which made people stop riding and the system was ultimately abandoned.
UrbanTurf broke the news of Donald Trump's planned design for the Old Post Office. New Columbia Heights reported that DC USA would place a curling rink in the underutilized parking garage. (Hey, maybe not a bad idea!)
Kaid Benfield announced that sprawl will no longer happen, Southwest TLQTC posted plans to redevelop Greenleaf Gardens, a public housing complex, and Alan Suderman discovered Marion Barry is running for mayor.
Finally, DC's elections board sent out a postcard telling residents they can only vote on April 23 at One Judiciary Square, nowhere else. Oh, wait, that last one wasn't a joke; it was just a really poorly-written note that conflated early voting and regular voting and will confuse residents.
What other local and regional April Fool posts did you especially like?
Since the 2010 general election, DC has had 3 council elections where the winning candidate gained less than 50% of the vote. Our current system too often hands a victory to someone who most voters vote against, in elections that too few voters participate in.
"The way District residents elect a mayor and Council members needs to change," Chuck Thies noted this week. He's right. It's time for a new voting system.
In the 2011 at-large special election, Vincent Orange won with only 29% of the vote. This month, Yvette Alexander won her primary with 42%, and Orange got 40% in the at-large primary.
It diminishes winners' legitimacy and support for our electoral process to end an election without strong public support for any candidate. And it's no way to choose our decision makers when we have better options available.
Back in 2010, I argued for scrapping DC's primary system. DC should replace it, I said, with a single general election with some form of a preferential voting system (like Instant Runoff Voting, Approval Voting, or one of several others).
These other voting systems represent a big change, and stand little chance of becoming law any time soon. But a less radical, yet still effective, option is available.
Nonpartisan blanket primary is the answer
If the District must keep holding primaries, the best model would be to hold a single primary open to all candidates and all voters. The top two vote-getters would then face off again in the general election in November. This system, known as a "nonpartisan blanket primary," is used in several states including Louisiana and Washington, and was recently adopted in California.
This system would easily work well for electing the mayor, the council chair, the ward councilmembers, and the attorney general (which will be an elected position starting in 2014).
How would at-large seats work?
Electing the at-large seats gets a little more complicated. Currently, 2 at-large seats (not including the chair) are up for election every two years. No party can hold more than 3 of the at-large seats, and because the chair will remain a Democrat for the foreseeable future, only 1 of the 2 at-large seats can go to another Democrat in a given election year.
This creates a complication for a blanket primary, since the top 2 vote-getters in the primary may not both be able to win in the fall if they're both Democrats. However there is a solution: eliminate these set-asides. The rule isn't accomplishing anything, anyway: Michael Brown, one of the "independent" members of the council, is in all practical senses a Democrat, and more aligned with his party on a number of issues than some members who are officially Democrats.
This move may also appease a DC Democratic party that might resist opening up the primary. While non-Democrat candidates could be unhappy about losing their set-aside seats, non-Democratic voters, who account for 25% of registered voters, would finally have an opportunity to cast a vote that matters.
Since there are 2 at-large seat open each year, 3 at-large candidates should advance from the primary to the general election. Voters would continue to cast 2 votes for the 2 seats. This would not guarantee that either of the victors would garner 50% of the vote, but it would guarantee that every voter that voted both votes would have chosen at least one winner.
Would the Democratic Party support this?
To implement this new system, the DC Democratic Party will have to get on board. The party has historically resisted any attempts to open the Democratic primary. Typically the argument is that it will lead to "meddling" or mischievous voting by people who aren't "true Democrats."
But there is scant evidence that mischievous voting actually occurs in open primaries. In fact, there would be little incentive to vote mischievously because your preferred candidate will need all the votes he or she can get to reach the general election.
Incumbents who have historically been elected and reelected with more than 50% of the vote, which often happens in the ward primaries, would likely continue to win easily under the non-partisan blanket primary system. They'd just have to beat their opponents twice. If they're popular, this shouldn't be a problem.
Moreover, with the primaries now so early in the year, an incumbent who loses would be a lame duck for 9 months. How would they govern for so long, knowing they have already been fired? Would they become indifferent? Ineffective? Venal? Voters won't find out this year, but eventually it will happen. In a nonpartisan blanket primary system, the campaign would continue into the fall, making the lame duck period very short.
Some might argue that the flaws of DC's voting system are hardly unique, particularly in jurisdictions dominated by one party. That's true. But it doesn't make it any more acceptable, especially when a better system is available.
We can continue to use a system where the 60% of the voters, in an election that only 9% of the registered population votes in, vote against a candidate who wins. Or we can demand a better system that produces victors with wider support from a larger electorate. This proposal could deliver that.
Last April, Vincent Orange beat a crowded field of candidates to fill Kwame Brown's at-large seat on the DC Council. Facing reelection less than a year later, Orange could be running against 4 other candidates, which could benefit him as the incumbent.
5 candidates have picked up petitions for the Democratic at-large nomination. In addition to Orange, Sekou Biddle, E. Gail Anderson Holness, Peter Shapiro, and Edward Wolterbeek have declared their candidacies for the seat.
With a crowded field, it could be difficult for the other candidates to distinguish themselves, particularly as many point to ethics reform as a key issue.
However, tonight is the deadline to file petitions to appear on the ballot, and only 2 Orange challengers have filed so far. If no others do, the race will be significantly different from last spring's.
Although Orange has been in office less than a year, he has name recognition from his previous 2 terms on the Council representing Ward 5 and from city-wide elections for Council Chairman and Mayor.
Biddle has strong name recognition too, however. He won the temporary appointment to Brown's seat last year and spent 4 months on the Council. He also ran in the city-wide special election to finish the term and placed third. Voters know his name, and he is likely the most credible challenger to Orange.
Peter Shapiro served on the Prince George's county council for 6 years, but has not run for elected office in DC. E. Gail Anderson Holness is currently an ANC-1B commissioner, representing ANC-1B11 near Howard University.
Edward Wolterbeek has run in several previous elections without much success, including as a Republican for Ward 5 Representative to the DC State Board of Education, Ward 5 Councilmember, Delegate to the US House of Representatives, and ANC-5A12 commissioner.
Last spring, Orange won 4 of the city's 8 wards, with the other 4 split between Bryan Weaver, Sekou Biddle, and Patrick Mara. If the race continues with 5 candidates, Orange could again benefit from a split vote.
However, today is the final day for candidates to file petitions and only Biddle, Orange, and Holness have done so. Shapiro is the only other candidate with a website, so he likely has a more organized campaign than Wolterbeek, who is a perennial candidate.
If none of the other candidates file by today's deadline, Biddle and Holness would be the only challengers. There is a chance that Biddle and Holness could split votes, but it's unclear how Holness could challenge Orange.
Biddle and Orange know each other from last year's election, which became heated at times. In his campaign announcement in November, Biddle attacked Orange for accepting out-of-state campaign donations and for trying to increase Council salaries.
If either Biddle or Holness can tie Orange to bad leadership, the anti-incumbent vote could propel them to victory. If Shapiro and Wolterbeek file in time, the field of challengers will double.
Part of the reason Orange won last April was that Weaver, Biddle, and Mara split the progressive vote, which may not happen this year. But Orange's competitors may split another constituency this year, the anti-incumbent vote.
Biddle has been strong on education, while Shapiro gained a reputation for economic development in Prince George's, although ethics is sure to play a major role. Once the filing deadline passes, we'll explore where the remaining candidates stand on the issues.
We're accustomed to having results posted on the Web right away and continually updated as precincts come in. However, we shouldn't be so impatient with BOEE. Their job is to get the count right, not to satisfy our thirst for results minutes after polls close.
Sure, it's fun to see who's ahead when only 6% of precincts are reporting, but it's also pretty useless. People want to know what happens before they go to bed, but in the long run, who cares? You wake up in the morning and know who's elected, unless races go to absentee ballots.
Some polling places opened late in DC on Tuesday, and some poll workers apparently ignored their training and just gave up when a seal wasn't present they expected to see on voting machines. That's a failing. Making people wait a few hours isn't.
Has everyone forgotten the 2008 race, when BOEE initially reported an incorrect total for Precinct 141, between Dupont Circle and U Street, but corrected it within a few minutes. That was such a scandal that Adrian Fenty and Vince Gray both called for formal investigations. The ultimate report blamed speed. Workers were moving too fast, perhaps to try to get results up right away.
There's a maxim that no project can be simultaneously fast, cheap, and good. You have to pick two. With tight budgets, it's unlikely BOEE will be lavishly funded, so there's a general tradeoff between fast and good. When it comes to voting counts, I'll take good over fast any day.
The DC Council races include some no-brainers, and some tougher calls. First, the no-brainers. Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh deserve your unhesitating vote.
Mr. Wells, finishing his first term representing Ward 6 (Capitol Hill, H Street, Near Southeast, Southwest Waterfront) has made "livable, walkable" communities the lynchpin of his candidacy, both four years ago and now. He's promoted bike lanes, transit, better retail, and performance parking.
His opponent, Kelvin Robinson, has attacked these policies with vague racial innuendo and tried to set up a false choice between these projects and other priorities like public safety. Wells has actually fought very hard on issues like crime and social services (he heads the social service committee), but deserves our vote for his strong urbanist leadership.
Ms. Cheh is unopposed in the primary for her first reelection in Ward 3 (upper Northwest). She won on a Smart Growth platform in a ward that, previously, many people believed was dominated by voters opposed to any development. Vocal groups of residents fight and often sue to block nearly every project, like the Wisconsin Avenue Giant in Cleveland Park or Akridge's project in Friendship Heights.
Ms. Cheh unabashedly came out for development on Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues, and for keeping most of the rest of the ward as it is. That's the essence of Smart Growth: more development in the commercial corridors and on transit stations, less in other places. And she won.
At-large, Clark Ray and Shadow Senator Michael D. Brown are both challenging incumbent Phil Mendelson. I really appreciate Mr. Ray's strong defense of Smart Growth, streetcars and more, though he didn't really bring these issues to the forefront until recently. Also, despite talking with him a few times and asking questions on a TV debate, I haven't come away with a really strong case for where he would show definitive leadership in controversial situations.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mendelson is a smart, capable, and honest councilmember who's been strong on the environment and a staunch defender of civil liberties and champion of same-sex marriage. His civil liberty stances have often led him to oppose crime legislation, and while public safety must be a priority, it's good to have someone asking questions like "is this Constitutional?" to keep the government from overstepping its bounds. But he's also a curmudgeon who tends to oppose changes to the city, like the aforementioned Giant and streetcars moving ahead on any kind of speedy timetable.
The contributors have generally come down on the side of Mr. Mendelson, mostly on the basis of his other good work on many issues outweighing his more obstructionist actions on a few specific points (and on which he has generally lost). Today's Post poll showing Shadow Senator Michael D. Brown in the lead is another good argument to tip the scales. That Mr. Brown has not made any compelling case for being a Councilmember, but most of his support comes from confusion between him and current at-large Councilmember Michael A. Brown.
Unfortunately, the ballot will only say "Michael Brown," a very poor decision by the Board of Elections and Ethics. Therefore, I actually hope Mr. Ray will ultimately encourage his supporters to vote for Mr. Mendelson. It's very likely that there will be a special election soon for the at-large seat held by Kwame Brown, and so Mr. Ray would make a strong contender for that election. (In fact, some have speculated that this was really his game plan all along, and Vincent Orange's too.)
I'll cover the races for Council Chair and Wards 1 and 5 in a subsequent post.
Come the night of September 14th, DC's primary election day, the identity of the city's next mayor will be known. Barring some last minute write-in campaign, most campaigning will slow to a trickle and the victor will engage in a two month victory lap till November.
This is true because of the District's overwhelming Democratic population. Once the party has decided on a candidate, no other contender has a viable chance in November. Democrats generally defend this system and say, hey, it's not their fault that the Republicans and Statehood Greens can't field a candidate with a real shot. And they're right.
But nonetheless, DC's primary election system has no legitimate purpose and should be scrapped in favor of an instant run-off voting system for the general election.
I can only think of a few legitimate purposes for a primary election, and they either don't or shouldn't apply to DC. First, a primary allows a party to unite its resources around a single candidate in order to wage a general election campaign. In DC there is no general election campaign. Either Gray or Fenty will win the primary and then mail it in for the next two months.
Second, a primary allows a party to unite its vote around a single candidate so that a "spoiler candidate" doesn't split the party and allow another party's candidate to win. Whether or not this was ever a legitimate goal, it simply wouldn't apply if the city were to adopt a preferential voting system.
The most compelling reason to scrap DC's primaries is enfranchisement. This is because even though the primary election is the de facto general election, there are always more District residents that show up for the actual general election. For instance, in 2008 the general election turnout was over five times the size of the primary turnout.
Sure, you say, lots of people showed up to vote for Obama. Ok, but how do you explain 2006? Over 10 percent more people voted in the general election than did in the primary, even though it wasn't a presidential election and there was not one genuinely competitive race on the ballot. So even though Fenty was already "measuring the drapes", over 10,000 more people showed up to vote. In 2002, another non-presidential election year, over 27% more people showed up in November than in September.
The simple fact is that even though anyone can sign up as a Democrat and vote in the primary, only a minority of registered voters actually do so. During the last three mayoral election years (2006, 2002 and 1998), the percentage of registered voters that voted in the Democratic primary has held steady at 25, 27 and 26 respectively.
Even in the highly charged 1994 primary when Marion Barry returned from jail to defeat Sharon Pratt Kelly, only 39 percent of registered voters voted in the Democratic primary. During the non-mayoral years, that number falls off the charts, averaging just 12 percent.
Expect these numbers to fall even further once the District moves the primary to the middle of summer in order to comply with the new MOVE Act, which requires ballots to be sent to overseas voters by 45 days before the general election (a deadline this year the District almost certainly won't make).
So as it exists, the system magnifies the voice of a small dedicated bloc of voters. Does the rest of the electorate have to rubber stamp this decision? Of course not, but the very nature of the primary system ensures that there are no other viable Democrats left on the ballot by the time of the general election. Since the only way to be a viable candidate is to run for the Democratic primary, the rest of the electorate is left with little choice but to rubber stamp the primary results. It's a feedback loop.
A lot of these problems are hardly unique to the District. But their effects are exacerbated by the city's political demographics. If we genuinely care about democratic participation and want our elections to better reflect the will of the whole electorate, we should adopt an instant runoff voting system.
How this would work would be that all candidates that qualify would appear on the November ballot. Voters would then rank the candidates in order of their preference. Through a simple multi-step process, the candidate with the most aggregate support is determined.
Unfortunately there appears to be little appetite in the District government to increase voter enfranchisement in this manner. Councilmember David Catania's modest proposal to open up the primaries to unaffiliated voters was roundly rejected. Then yesterday, fearful that it would create a de facto open primary, the elections board upheld a bar against independent voters changing their affiliations to Democrat within 30 days of the primary.
Starting this year, non-registered residents can register right up to Election Day. Thus a person who has lived in the city for, say, 10 years and just never registered (or alternatively, a brand new resident that was a registered Republican in his or her last state) will be able to register and vote as a Democrat on the day of the primary. But if you are a registered independent voter who only just now got interested in the election and want to participate in the only vote that really matters, tough luck.
While I believe this particular decision is unjust and possibly a violation of Equal Protection, I don't mean to suggest that the District's primary system as a whole is unfair. It's not. But there is no legitimate reason to keep it as is when a much better option is available.
- Young kids try to assault me while biking
- Metro bag searches aren't always optional
- Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?
- Endless zoning update delay hurts homeowners
- Redeveloping McMillan is the only way to save it
- DDOT agrees to repave 15th Street cycle track
- Vienna Metro town center won't have a town center