Improving Voter Representation In DC's Elections
At DC Appleseed, we make the District a better place to live and work. Through robust democratic participation and widespread voting, DC residents have their voices heard and improve our community.
DC Appleseed aims to analyze DC’s crowded primaries and split elections. Our goal is to increase the number of local races resulting in a clear majority and democratic mandate for elected officials while reducing existing racial and economic disparities in voter turnout.
• While DC has always been a heavily Democratic city, the party now routinely receives more than 90% of the votes in the presidential elections. In most DC races, the winner of the Democratic primary is the de facto winner of the general election, but that outcome is decided with only a small number of eligible voters participating (22.4% in the 2022 primaries) and no input from DC’s Republican or independent voters.
• One critical exception to primaries being the key vote is DC’s At-Large races. Section 401 of the Home Rule Act (“Charter”) states that no more than two of the four At-Large seats on the Council (excluding the seat held by the Chairperson) may be of the same majority political party. As a result, DC’s elections are split with most of the races decided in the primary, and the race for the one independent seat on the Council that is elected every two years being decided in November.
• An increased number of candidates (due in part to public campaign finance) means local officials often win their elections with a small plurality versus a majority of votes.
Challenges in DC Elections
In recent years, many jurisdictions considered and implemented electoral reform, examining the rules of their political system and finding ways to ensure those rules support effective, representative government and broad democratic participation. Local electoral rules determine how officials are selected: which candidates and political parties can compete and how voters are allowed to choose between them. Nearly unlimited options for improving DC’s elections exist.
Some potential options include:
(1) Instituting rank-choice voting;
(2) Holding non-partisan primaries (open primaries), with the top two (or three) finishers advancing to the general election;
(3) Holding runoff primary elections between the top two vote-getters if no candidate receives an absolute majority; or
(4) Eliminate the limitation in DC’s Home Rule Act on the number of At-Large seats that a political party may hold.
Note: DC Appleseed is non-partisan and independent. We do not have a position nor do we endorse any currently pending legislation or initiatives related to DC elections.
Listening Sessions and Convening
To ensure we examine the most viable options for DC and to begin building broad consensus and buy-in among stakeholders, DC Appleseed is hosting listening sessions and holding a convening to determine the best three to five potential options for DC.
Listening Sessions: Over the next several months, DC Appleseed seeks the input of DC-based community groups regarding current barriers to voting in local elections and democratic participation. Currently, Wards 7 and 8 have the lowest turnout for DC’s primaries and elections, so we particularly seek the input of residents and community groups based east of the Anacostia River. Interested in holding or participating in a listening session? Please email email@example.com.
Convening: In addition to listening sessions, we will hold a half-day, in-person convening on Saturday, September 30th at UDC-Law. We invite local and national election advocacy groups, academics, and DC residents of all backgrounds to participate in this event. Prior to the convening, we will ask participants to submit an array of potential "solutions" for consideration. Then, through a series of panel discussions and workshops during the convening, we will narrow many possible solutions to just 3-5 for further research.
What Happens Next?
After the convening, DC Appleseed will conduct more detailed research and analysis of the selected reforms. We plan to publicly release a report on potential electoral reforms for DC in 2024.
To Learn More About the Convening—click Here!
Thank You to Our Partners: