Council considers D.C. ballot bill

Five Democratic presidential candidates who withdrew their names from the D.C. primary may find their names back on the ballot, with or without their consent.

Members of the D.C. City Council are considering the introduction of legislation that would put the candidates’ names on the ballot regardless of their intention to stay out of the D.C. primary, scheduled for Jan. 14.

“They don’t have to campaign here, but their names would still appear on the ballot,” said Shennette Graham, deputy chief of staff for Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). In March 2003, Evans wrote legislation that will make the D.C. primary the first in the nation.

The five candidates asked the District Board of Elections and Ethics last Thursday to remove their names from the primary ballot, citing Democratic National Committee rules as the basis for their decision. The rules discourage presidential candidates from participating in primaries, caucuses or conventions before the first official primary, scheduled to take place in New Hampshire on Jan. 27.

Sens. John Edwards (N.C.), John Kerry (Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.), along with Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, will not appear on the ballot unless the legislation passes.

The D.C. primary is “non-binding,” meaning no delegates will be chosen for the Democratic National Convention, in August, when delegates will vote for the candidate who will run against President George W. Bush.

On Feb. 14, D.C. residents will choose their delegates in the Presidential Preference Caucus.

Tony Welch, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committe, said it was DNC not supportive of the D.C. primary because it went against campaigning rules.

“It is very important for us to point out that D.C. residents get to be an important part of the process on February 14,” he said.

The D.C. City Council and Mayor Anthony Williams made the D.C. primary the first in the nation to bring nationwide attention to the District’s lack of voting representation in Congress.

“(The mayor) feels the candidates have insulted the residents of D.C.,” said Sharon Gang, Williams’ deputy director of communications.

Asked about the proposed legislation that would put all the candidates’ names on the ballot, Gang said Williams “is aware of possibilities being talked about but would have to first see the precise legislation.”

While the five candidates said they were merely observing party rules when they pulled out of the primary, Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote, said it was a political move.

D.C. Vote, an organization that advocates voting rights for District residents, was heavily involved in the effort to make the D.C. primary the first in the country.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has secured the support of 11 of the 13 D.C. City Council members, Zherka noted.

“I thought their reason to bow out had to do with Dean … having obtained most of the endorsements from the D.C. Council,” Zherka said. “In conversations with different campaign staff, people were already upset that Dean had locked in the D.C. Council.”

Adam Kovacevich, deputy press secretary for Joe Lieberman For President, said “absolutely not” to claims that Lieberman’s decision to withdraw from the primary was prompted by Dean’s popularity.

Kovacevich said other candidates’ campaigning efforts “played no role in our thinking.” He said Lieberman’s decision was predicated solely upon the desire to abide by party rules.

Despite the withdrawal of more than half of the primary’s candidates, Zherka called the primary a “success.”

The candidates would not have come to D.C. and campaigned without the decision of city officials to hold the first primary here, said Zherka, adding that D.C. residents could “claim victory.”

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