D.C. urged to reschedule election set for April Fools' Day

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The joke might be over: The D.C. Council on Tuesday took up a proposal that would change the dates of the city's primary elections, including the 2014 contest scheduled for April Fools' Day.

D.C. law currently requires the District to stage its party primaries on the first Tuesday in April, but some lawmakers are hoping to push that date back to the third Tuesday in June.

"I feel very strongly that an April primary is not in the best interests of the Democratic process," said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, one of the measure's authors.

The proposal's supporters argue that an April primary would overshadow the council's work on the city budget, require aggressive wintertime campaigning and turn officeholders into lame ducks more quickly.

But Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham said moving the election to June could also complicate budget deliberations for legislators.

"We want the council members to be focused here," Graham said. "If they're really focused on the campaign trail, as some of them will be, I think that raises a question."

Lawmakers receive a budget proposal from the mayor in March, conduct hearings about it throughout April, adjust it in May and cast a final vote in June.

Should the bill survive the legislative process, it could have significant effects on the 2014 mayoral race, and it quickly divided the declared and potential candidates in that contest.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, who has announced a run, said she was skeptical of the date change.

"The campaign season has started," Bowser said. "Changing the rules in the middle of the game is never a good idea."

But Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, who will decide in the next few weeks whether to run for mayor, embraced the measure.

"Erring on the side of giving voters more time to vet the candidates is best for the District," said Wells. "It doesn't matter to me what's fair for the people running."

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, who is planning a mayoral run, said he would likely back the proposal, while Mayor Vincent Gray, who hasn't announced any re-election plans, said he had not reviewed the legislation.

The District didn't always hold April primaries. Gray won the 2010 Democratic primary in a September vote.

The District moved it to April in 2011, after Congress imposed new deadlines for when American military forces serving overseas must receive their absentee ballots.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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