In the referendum nearly three years ago, the people of the District decided by a more than 3-to-1 margin to amend the Home Rule Charter to require the D.C. Attorney General to be elected, beginning in 2014.
Unfortunately, the Council is now on the verge of overriding the people’s overwhelming choice to have greater democracy. On July 10, without a hearing and at the very end of the late-night final legislative meeting before summer recess, the Council voted 8 to 5 to postpone the election until 2018.
The decision clearly contradicts the voters’ will and denies them the expanded democracy they voted for. The referendum ballot stated: “[i]f voters approve this amendment and the U.S. Congress does not reject the measure, residents of the District of Columbia would begin voting for the Attorney General in 2014.” We agree with the recent editorial in The Current Newspapers calling the Council’s actions “perverse” and “[a]n 11th-hour affront” to the electorate.
As Sen. Paul Strauss and I wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last weekend, it’s puzzling that the same Council that so ardently fights for D.C. democracy has now decided to delay the people’s right to the election they wanted.
Not only is the Council’s 8 to 5 preliminary vote a step backward for D.C. democracy, but the Council’s legal authority to take this step is doubtful. Since a 2014 election is now required by the Home Rule Charter itself, the date can be changed only by another referendum, or an act of Congress.
According to a written opinion by the Council’s own General Counsel, “the short answer is that the Council cannot delay the election.” In addition, the Attorney General wrote in a separate opinion that even if the Council has the authority to delay the election, it should not do so because “it would be inconsistent with the expressed will of the District’s electorate.”
The final vote on the postponement will take place in September when the Council returns from the summer recess. In the meantime, we will be doing all we can to urge the Council to change course and respect the people’s decision.