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3 special elections loom in D.C.

Gray lags on filling elections board

- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2011

An unusual turn of events means D.C. voters will hit the polls for an unprecedented three special elections this spring, but the consequences run beyond who wins or loses in the three races.

In play as well are the cost of the elections, the failure of Mayor Vincent C. Gray to nominate a third member to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) and whom Republicans will field as candidates.

City officials were prepared for two elections to be held on April 26, but the unexpected death on Wednesday of Board of Education member William Lockridge means the BOEE will have to certify two additional open seats at its Jan. 19 meeting.

Mr. Lockridge, 63, the school board's longest-serving member, died following a stroke he suffered on Jan. 7.

Another school board member, Sekou Biddle, resigned following his selection by the D.C. Democratic Party to temporarily hold the at-large D.C. Council seat of Kwame Brown, who was sworn in as council chairman earlier this month.

Winners of the races will fill the vacant offices through the unexpired terms of their previous holders, according to the D.C. Code.

A cost analysis by the BOEE said conducting traditional elections in April, with voters casting ballots at all 143 precincts or by mail, could cost $829,000 and prove prohibitive amid a looming $440 million to $500 million deficit.

A council hearing on costs and preparations for the election is scheduled for Wednesday, and the issues include closing precincts and replacing them with 16 voting centers, two in each of the eight wards.

But the costs aren't the chief concern for Republicans, who accuse city officials of circumventing the law by wagging the dog.

"I think what is more important for us is the fact that the board is going into yet another election in which there is no Republican named to the board," said D.C. Republican Committee Executive Director Paul Craney. "Under D.C. law, the board must have a member of the minority party, and D.C. has a long history of appointing a Republican to the three-member board.

"When Mayor [Adrian M.] Fenty nominated Mital Gandhi, many council members voted him down and promised voters that they would appoint a Republican by the general election. The general election came and went, and nothing has happened. Now we are preparing for another election, and the same council members, including [Mary] Cheh, who heads the council committee that oversees the board, is still dragging her feet," he said.

"The council played politics with Mital Gandhi, and now we continue to see that nothing has changed," Mr. Craney added. "This is all part of the council's attempt to ensure that there is no accountability and circumvent the laws that protect voters from monopoly control."

With the three-seat board containing just two members, meeting a quorum has been difficult at times as election officials have reckoned with an unprecedented set of special-election circumstances.

"The board has to have a quorum to conduct business," said BOEE spokeswoman Alysoun McLaughlin. "The third member's seat has sat vacant for some time. It can be difficult if either member has scheduling conflict."

The school board seats are nonpartisan, but more than a dozen Democrats have picked up nominating petitions for the at-large council race, including Leo Alexander, who lost his run for mayor; Jacque Patterson, a popular Democrat; and Mr. Biddle.

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