Voting Rights Activists Seek to Put D.C. First on Primary Schedule

Posted January 17, 2003 at 10:35am

A D.C. City Councilman is expected to introduce a bill next week that would make Washington’s 2004 presidential primary the first in the nation.

D.C. Democracy Fund, a political action committee supporting full Congressional representation for the District of Columbia, proposed the idea to members of the council this week, and at least two have expressed strong support for the measure. A spokesman for City Councilman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said he plans to introduce a bill making the change next week.

The New Hampshire primary is currently scheduled for Jan. 27, 2004, and the PAC’s proposal would place the District’s Democratic and Republican presidential primaries one week earlier. A New Hampshire law directs that its primary be held “seven days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election.”

But since the District is not a state, backers of the measure believe the New Hampshire law as written wouldn’t require the Granite State to move its primary. Presumably the state could pass another law with language that would include D.C. in the directive, prompting New Hampshire to make its primary first once again.

However, D.C. Democracy Fund Political Director Sean Tenner said such discussions are beside the point. He said the motivation for prompting such a debate would be to focus national attention on what his group believes is the disenfranchisement of District voters. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) doesn’t have voting rights on the House floor.

Tenner said D.C. could just “keep the primary first, no matter what happens.”

D.C. City Councilman Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) echoed Tenner’s comments about the impetus for moving the primary.

“I think it’s a good idea … anything that contributes to national consciousness about the state of Congressional representation for the District of Columbia,” he said.

“I don’t think a lot of people are going to be interested in how the District of Columbia votes in the Democratic primary,” Graham added. But he said it will nonetheless provide an opportunity to draw attention to the lack of Congressional voting rights for the District’s 600,000 residents.