May 21, 2014 | by Mark Lee
Time to clean house at D.C. election board
election, gay news, Washington Blade

How long will we tolerate waiting until the wee hours of the night and next morning to know the tally of the increasingly small number of votes cast?

D.C. election management is the cartoon version of participatory democracy.

How long will we tolerate waiting until the wee hours of the night and next morning to know the tally of the increasingly small number of votes cast?

During the past few election cycles voters have witnessed a comic series of poor performances by the D.C. Board of Elections that have embarrassed the city. The District occupies the bottommost rungs in almost all categories of registration protocols, voting procedures and election executions compared to other jurisdictions across the country.

Yet local bewilderment at the stunningly deficient conduct of local elections fast fades after each ballot cycle. No effective oversight or remedial action by mayoral administrations or the D.C. Council has followed each turn-your-head-away-in-shame episode. Nothing gets done to fix the notorious mess.

It’s time to clean house at the District’s center of vote counting. No more excuses. No more delays. No more accepting the baffling explanations of incompetent agency leadership and dysfunctional staff. When the most important known activity and obvious task can’t be delivered adequately, there should be no hesitation to hold those responsible fully accountable for repeated failure.

The explanations are unacceptable, the rationalizations are ridiculous and the denials of deficiencies are inexcusable. Pink slips are extremely overdue.

No longer should we have to watch as other cities and, yes, even states, report their vote totals before more than a few D.C. ballots are tabulated. Media sources shouldn’t have to rely on passed-around photocopies of partial counts provided by agency staff as if operating in another technological era. Local elections should never again appear to be dependent on stone tablets slowly retrieved from gnomes atop mountains utilizing an abacus. We shouldn’t have to wait multiple hours for the online posting of updated election returns or days for the final preliminary numbers.

There is no reason not to know election outcomes before Jimmy Fallon appears on late-night TV — lest we once again become the butt of talk show jokes. Other, and larger, localities manage to do it — why is it such an unachievable task here?

Residents of the capital city of the planet’s most prominent democracy should expect a world-class election operation. We’ve been reduced, however, to merely wanting them to do their jobs and, eventually, tell us who won.

Repairing D.C. elections should be a top priority for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. A party-primary-defeated politician not participating in the general election, he is in a unique position to accomplish improvement in his final months in office.

Gray should, however, do more than simply right the agency and install competent management and personnel. It’s also time to begin to think big and determine how the elections board might better contribute to the political process.

Other city and state election agencies organize and conduct, in collaboration with nonpartisan groups and media organizations, high-profile serial televised debates for top offices. D.C. has oddly not developed such a tradition. Instead, candidates are reduced to traipsing around the city on a nightly basis to appear before miniscule assemblages of just about every special interest organization and small neighborhood group imaginable.

The mind-numbing volume of these events, and the tiny numbers of people participating, is more a measure of candidate stamina – and patience – than the most effective way to conduct campaigns or best provide the broadest possible survey of candidates by the larger community. These events may number more than a hundred but they offer little to provide an opportunity for citywide voter assessment of the competitors. Of course, select small-scale political forums serve a purpose and allow for a few to see the candidates up close and personal. But they are no substitute for accessible larger audience events.

Should we not expect that, in addition to finally fixing the reporting of voting results, the elections board coordinate and sponsor a series of live-audience televised candidate debates for major offices?

I vote yes.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

2 Comments
  • In many of the States, the entire voting and electoral process is the responsibility of an elected Secretary of State or the State's Lt Governor. At least there is a modicum of an elected person to either praise or damn for job performance. Is it time for the District of Columbia to have our Secretary elected?

  • Bruce P. Majors

    The staff at the board of Elections, who I've dealt with for at least two election cycles, are very pleasant and helpful. That said, lots of funny things happen in DC's election process. The most interesting to me is that they cleaned the election rolls in June of 2013 and 65,000 DC voters disappeared, around 10% of the DC population (you can see the total number of DC voters, by Ward and party, published at the end of every month on the BOE website). It was a little odd I thought that it took from November 2012 until March 2013 to add Libertarian to the voter registration forms, and it was then misspelled in some printings, which did make DC look less than …professional. I actually enjoy the weird incapacity to count the votes though. In 2012 my vote total kept shooting up every few days after the election, finally jumping from 14.000 to nearly 17,000. I never figured out how you miss 3,000 votes. It seems odd that there could be such a high percentage of absentee or provisional or early ballots.

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