Mayor Adrian Fenty failed in his eleven-hour bid to open up September's DC Democratic Primary to voters that are unaffiliated with a party, but the attempt could spur a change in the way the District elects local officials in the future... and it should.
Whoever wins the mayoral contest, the issue of open primaries may have finally found its legs.
Fenty's challenger, DC Council Chairman Vince Gray, who has a slight lead in the latest polls, is now on record as supporting an open primary. We're fine with the notion of the Democratic Party opening up to an open primary-type system," Gray said, "but this is something that should be discussed after the election."
The Washington Post's editorial board also chimed in to express support, stating "Enfranchising as many people as possible is the right goal."
There are thousands of voters who are locally disenfranchised in our already federally disenfranchised city because they feel compelled, as a matter of principle, their jobs, or other sensitivities, not to register as a Democrat. It's adding insult to injury.
We all know that the election that matters most in the District is the Democratic primary. Aside from two seats on the D.C. Council that are set aside for members of a minority party, there is no time in recent memory that an individual elected in the Democratic primary did not go on to win the general election.
That's because 3 out of 4 of the District's registered voters are Democrats. Yet, that leaves 72,000 unaffiliated voters, 30,000 Republicans, and about 700 other voters without a meaningful vote in local elections.
Thousands of them engage in charade every election cycle in which they switch their party affiliation to Democrat one month before the primary, then switch right back the days after the election. This year, 2,600 voters did the 'ol swicheroo.
The District's Democratic party, not surprisingly, strongly opposes open primaries. The local GOP has no official position at this time, according to its Executive Director Paul Craney.
I'm a Democrat. I've run for election as a Democrat. I might not support open primaries nationally or in other states, but our unique situation in the District calls for enfranchising all voters.
When I went door-to-door campaigning in 2008, I found it enfuriating how many residents were either registered as independents or with another party, or had specifically chosen to remain registered in another state because of the lack of meaningful representaton in D.C. "You have a nice day" . . . next door.
Our current situation weakens the influence of the District on the national stage. Since the District has no vote in Congress, and those who are not Democrats have very little say in local elections, transient Republicans and Independents have all the reason in the world to keep their registration elsewhere. If you have the option, why register as a DC voter when it means almost completely losing your vote?
It also drowns out the views of over 100,000 District residents, about 25% of the voting population, who have registered in the District despite its lack of federal representation in local affairs. Other than those who occupy the two at-large seats on the D.C. Council that are set aside for members of minority parties, other local officials have less motivation to outreach to residents who are not registered Democrats, and involve them in local affairs, since they have no say in their selection. Open primaries would allow more a more diverse range of views, both on the left and the right, make their way onto the Council. It would energize the electorate, which the District desperately needs if it is every to achieve full representation in Congress and greater Home Rule.
Are Fenty's actions, Gray's response, and the Washington Post's op-ed simpy political maneuvering for the September primary? Quite possibly, but I'm going to take their statements at face value.
Let's end the pre-election party affiliation musical chairs nonsense and let everyone vote in 2012.