Independents Day

Fenty wants to let unaffiliated voters take part in primary

When the going gets tough, change the rules.

Mayor Adrian Fenty’s reelection campaign is making a late attempt to get the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to allow unaffiliated voters to take part in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary. That would increase the number of possible voters from the current 329,000 to about 401,000 -- a significant increase that would change the end-game mathematics of Fenty’s race against Vincent Gray.

On Aug. 12, the elections board adopted rules prohibiting “no party” voters from taking part in the primary. But the Washington Post reports Fenty campaign attorney Marc Elias complains in a letter to the board that “the Fenty camp met in July with the board's general counsel, Kenneth McGhie, who gave the nod to allow such voters to participate” in the primary.

Voters had until Aug. 16 to change their party registration in order to be eligible to vote in the primary, but Elias says the four days between the board’s ruling and that date was not long enough. He wants an emergency hearing to take place before early voting begins -- just six days from now.

The Fenty camp’s request is actually a sensible one. Unaffiliated voters can vote in primaries in many states, and in overwhelmingly Democratic D.C., many residents register as Democrats just so their votes will matter. Even conservative pundit Tucker Carlson is a registered Democrat.

But the District has a closed primary system, which, as the elections board states, means “only individuals registered with a major party will be permitted to sign nominating petitions for that party and to cast their party’s ballot in the primary election.” Should this be changed? Maybe. Should it be changed this late in the game? No -- it’s an obvious attempt by Fenty’s team to move the goalposts.

Fenty is also set to win the endorsement of Ward 3 Republican candidate Dave Hedgepeth -- an endorsement Fenty probably doesn’t want. This is no judgment against Hedgepeth, an impressive black Republican who rose from the Bronx public schools to become a successful Washington attorney. But getting the support of a prominent Republican won’t do much to impress Democrats.


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Hedgepeth’s move is less about boosting Fenty than it is about putting pressure on his rival, incumbent Councilmember Mary Cheh. Fenty is popular in Ward 3, and Hedgepeth wants to pressure Cheh -- a vocal Fenty critic who has remained publicly neutral in the mayoral race -- to say which candidate she backs. Cheh has said she may make a public statement soon.

Fenty has been the de facto Republican candidate for mayor since the GOP decided not to field its own candidate. D.C. Republican Committee executive director Paul Craney has said most local Republicans like Fenty and schools chief Michelle Rhee, so they decided not to contest the race. I recently asked Craney if, in the event of a Gray primary victory, the GOP would field a write-in candidate for mayor. He said the party would still focus on its slate of Council candidates.

Freeman Klopott of the Washington Examiner goes so far as to say that Hedgepeth’s endorsement raises “the possibility that increasing GOP support for the mayor will scare the city's Democrats into voting for his opponent.” After all, a lot of Republicans like Sarah Palin -- but Democrats aren’t exactly itching for her support.

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