The D.C. Board of Elections is moving forward with plans to hold the city's first election for attorney general in April, despite the fact the D.C. Council voted to postpone the election by four years.
Continuing with election preparations isn't an act of defiance, rather a product of the District's lawmaking process, which requires a period of congressional review before any law is made final. So as the clock starts on a 30-day review period that could stretch into winter — since only days that both the Senate and the House are in session are counted — the Board of Elections is following current law and preparing for the election.
"Until the law changes, we still have it scheduled for 2014," Board of Elections general counsel Kenneth McGhie said.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Tuesday allowed the legislation to advance to a congressional review but symbolically registered his disapproval when he returned the bill to the D.C. Council unsigned. The mayor had proposed clarifying the duties of the new position but objected to, among other things, amendments passed by the council this month pushing back the election to at least 2018.
In the meantime, a legal challenge to the council's legislation also aims to keep the 2014 date on track after D.C. residents overwhelmingly approved the election in a 2010 referendum.
D.C. lawyer Paul Zukerberg sued last month to stop the Board of Elections and the council from removing the race from the April primary ballot. A federal judge has scheduled a Nov. 7 preliminary injunction hearing in the case.
"I want to get an order that's going to keep the office on the ballot — not have them take it off," Mr. Zukerberg said.
The Nov. 7 hearing comes the day before the Board of Elections is set to make nominating petitions available for the April primary and well before the congressional review period will expire.
"Either way, we are going to have nominating petitions printed up for it," Mr. McGhie said.
The D.C. office of the attorney general, which is representing the city in the case, declined to comment on the pending litigation.
But Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan explained in a July memo that, while he does not recommend a delay of the election for his current job, he believes the council has the legal authority to enact it.
"With each passing day, the opportunity for a free and fair election for Attorney General diminishes, because to the defendants' illegal and unprecedented effort to cancel a scheduled election for public office in the United States," reads Mr. Zukerberg's complaint, which was originally filed in D.C. Superior Court. The case was moved to federal court in the District because it involves constitutional rights. "This case will literally decide whether the 640,000 citizens of the District of Columbia will live under democracy or tyranny."
U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg will preside over the hearing.
D.C. Council members who advocated for the election delay cited concern that the structure of the attorney general's office is being reorganized and that no candidates had filed for the election primary, now just six months away. The same bill that delays the election also dismantles portions of the attorney general's office by placing attorneys under the supervision of the various government agencies they work with rather than under the supervision of the attorney general. That transition is expected to go into effect in October 2014 — another point to which the mayor objected, since the restructuring would precede the election.
Others on the council contend that the motivation behind delaying the election stemmed from disapproval of having an elected attorney general at all.
With D.C. officials trumpeting for the city's budget autonomy during the recent federal government shutdown, Mr. Zukerberg said it sends the wrong message when the city that wants Congress to back out of its local affairs meddles with matters voted on by its residents.
"We lose a lot of credibility in our argument for full voting rights in Congress when we don't respect the vote in our own local election," Mr. Zukerberg said.
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