And just when you thought this blog was done with (I thought so too!), there's more out there that's relevant and worth discussing. This time around: what we've learned from the April 26 At-Large Special Election that could help make changes moving forward.
Keith Ivey has some ideas worth considering, which he tweeted today. Generally, I agree that the interim appointment for the At-Large seat is somewhat troublesome. There's no such appointment for a ward-based seat, and those are arguably more important in terms of direct resident representation. We should either allow appointments for both, or not have appointments for either. Given how the process played out this January when Sekou Biddle won the appointment in a contested vote of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, I would say we scrap the appointments completely. Heck, I think Biddle would agree, given how things turned out.
This ties into his third point -- the date of the election. Currently, a special election has to be held on the first Tuesday 114 days after a vacancy has been formally declared. That's four months, roughly. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has legislation on the Hill to cut the wait-time down to 70 days, but it hasn't moved since last Fall. Cutting down the time between a vacancy and a special election not only gives the city more flexibility in scheduling the election (thus avoiding the Passover problem that happened this time around) and further chips away at any justification for an interim appointment. That being said, I have no idea how we could have fit all of the campaigning we saw this time into 70 days. It would certainly change the dynamic, not to mention some of the timetables -- the whole signature-gathering process and challenge period would have to be condensed, if only to actually allow time for campaigning.
Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is as interesting an idea as it is a complicated one. Considering the dynamics of this election, where many voters went with someone for strategic reasons rather than personal ones, IRV certainly has its merits. Greater Greater Washington even went ahead and held a test-run of how IRV could have worked on April 26. Regardless, introducing IRV would take years. That's not to say it shouldn't be considered, but that changing the way people vote is difficult and time-consuming. I'm sure people would embrace the concept eventually, but we's also face plenty of voters who have no clue why and how they're supposed to rank their choices. I put IRV alongside non-partisan D.C. elections -- something that I think we need and would be great for the city, but that will take a long time to see happen.
Other changes? A few ideas:
- I understand the value of being able to challenge individual signatures on nominating petitions. But the way some challenges were carried out this year -- especially Biddle's challenges of Weaver -- indicates that we might have to find a way to ensure that challenges are filed in good faith, and not simply as a way to bury a campaign in paperwork.
- I realize these are tough times, but the budget for an election really needs to be ironed out ahead of time. The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics knew it would have $590,000 to work with for the Special Election, but it really had no clue how much -- if anything -- would come thereafter to cover costs for a process that was expected to cost closer to $800,000. It only got a second $90,000 outlay a few weeks before the election, at which point it had made as many cuts as humanly possible to make the election run according to plan and schedule. While we should be proud that the board did as good a job as it did, we can't simply hope for good elections on the cheap in the future. Democracy is expensive, mostly because inexpensive alternatives arent' very good.
- Campaign finance. It wasn't as big an issue this time, since no one really cared about the election, but it's always a problem during prime-time contests. I don't know enough about this issue to speak knowledgeably about it, but the people I've spoken to who do know something about it hint that the way things are run now, buying influence with a particular candidate in relatively discrete ways isn't terribly hard.
- This is a total stretch, but I'm going with it anyhow -- I think local media should donate small amounts of space or time to ads telling residents that an election is coming up. Seriously. If all you read is the A section of the Post, you may not know an election is even on until after it happens. A donated full-page ad could be a nice way to remind people of their civic duty, much like a few PSAs on local radio and TV. Is free too much to ask from cash-strapped media outlets? OK, then how about really discounted?
I'm certainly not an expert on running elections, so this is only a place to start. (Or to be told I'm a moron; either way works.) Democracy is an ever-evolving concept and product, and so too should be the elections that serve as one of its most important foundations.