Thies: A Canceled Election in the Nation's Capital? Maybe Not

“I have seen a lot of injustice, but never did I believe that in America I would see our government cancel an election.” --Paul Zukerberg, candidate for D.C. Attorney General.

Wait, what? An election in the District of Columbia got canceled?

Is that what Zukerberg said?

Indeed, it is.

In 2010, District voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to elect an independent Attorney General. Currently, the AG is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council.

The same mayor and Council caught up in a myriad of scandals.

Earlier this year, the Council voted to call off the 2014 election for AG. Mayor Gray could have vetoed the measure, but he allowed the Council’s edict to stand, albeit without his signature.

In voicing support to stop the election, longtime council member and mayoral candidate Jack Evans declared, “We are just not ready for this.”

What does it take to hold an election around here?

Paul Zukerberg intends to find out.

On Thursday, Zukerberg will appear in Federal Court where he is seeking an injunction to require the government to proceed with the election.

Zukerberg told me he hopes for, and expects, a timely decision from the judge. On the day after the hearing, nominating petitions become available for candidates seeking to participate in the April 1, 2014 primary.

In other words, without a prompt decision, the democratic process may be overtaken by events and the “tiny tyrants,” Zukerberg’s pet name for Council members who voted to cancel the election, will have triumphed.

It is impossible to know what the judge will decide. One can only hope he sees the issue through the lens of history.

Imagine a judge ruling in favor of canceling an election. If it happens once, it can happen again. And again. Our legal system relies heavily on precedent.

Zukerberg has challenged the government before and won. Earlier this year he appealed a ruling by the Board of Elections to toss him off the ballot in a special election. Zukerberg prevailed and in doing so raised serious issues about the integrity of the petitioning process and voter rolls in the District.

For now, Zukerberg is the only candidate running for AG. When I spoke with him last week, he was reluctant to run. His goal was to see the election held, not to compete in it.

District government lawyers, however, forced Zukerberg’s hand. In its legal brief, the government argued that canceling the election would not harm Zukerberg in a meaningfully way because he was not a candidate.

In order to achieve “standing” in court, Zukerberg had to demonstrate harm; being a guy fighting for what is right is not good enough. So, on Monday, Zukerberg filed papers and declared his candidacy for AG.

Later this week, we may learn whether or not there will be an election.

If there is one, District voters will elect an Attorney General independent of the political appointment process. How could that be a bad thing?

Chuck Thies is a political, communications and advocacy consultant. From 1998 to 2010 his professional portfolio included District of Columbia politics. Chuck has worked on national projects and internationally in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, China and Mexico. If you are daring, follow him on Twitter: @ChuckThies

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