- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2019

The D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee on Thursday took public comments about legislation aimed at encouraging voter participation changing the ballot initiative process.

The committee focused on three bills in Thursday’s hearing:

⦁ The Initiative and Referendum Process Improvement Amendment Act of 2019, which would require the Board of Elections to solicit the opinions of the city’s attorney general and the council’s general counsel on drafting an initiative or referendum. It also would require that votes on an initiative be held during a general election, not a primary or special election.

⦁ The Paid Leave to Vote Amendment Act of 2019, which would require employers to give workers two hours of paid time off to vote.

⦁ The Improving Voter Registration for New Tenants and Homeowners Amendment Act of 2019, which would require landlords and D.C. Housing Finance Agency to give voter registration packets to new tenants.

“All of these bills seek to encourage voters to vote, yet we must face the tragic truth that the biggest obstacle to voting may be the belief that voting does not matter,” said Kesh Ladduwahetty, operations director of D.C. for Democracy.

Ms. Ladduwahetty noted how the council last year voted to overturn an initiative approved by voters that would have raised the city’s minimum for tipped workers to equal that of regular hourly workers. She suggested a supermajority or unanimous vote in the council to overturn a voter initiative.

Attorney Andrew Kline of the Veritas law firm, representing the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, recommended that the mayor, the attorney general, the general counsel and elections board provide input on the summary statements of an initiative to ensure its language is not misleading.

The elections board did not do so with the tipped wage initiative, Mr. Kline noted.

Council member Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat and committee chairman, raised the possibility of extending the two hours of paid time off not just on Election Day but for early voting.

“There are plenty of people who don’t need the two hours, that’s not who we are worried about,” Mr. Allen said. “It’s the individuals balancing multiple jobs, multiple shifts.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, for five of the last six elections, the top reason registered voters gave for not getting to the polls was conflicting schedules.

“Yes, the council can pass legislation, but it is not solely legislation that will improve voter turnout,” said activist Dorothy Brizill of DC Watch.

She pointed to the long lines and small venues for the polling places, and non-residents and the deceased still being on the voter rolls as places for improvement.

Ms. Brizill said that requiring tenants or new property owners to receive a voter registration packet at a closing or a lease signing is a “terrible idea” and “mixing apples and oranges,” citing that the process of buying or renting a house is already too overwhelming.

“I am struggling to understand how this is terrible,” Mr. Allen said, adding that voter registration packets are handed out when someone goes to prison, as well.

From the end of last June to November, 7,600 people registered to vote via automatic voter registration, of which 54% voted on Election Day.

During the same period, 40,500 people updated their voter registration through automatic voter registration, 54% voted on Election Day, according to the Board of Elections.

“What I am proud of is, when we do this work with voter registration, we see it translates,” Mr. Allen said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide