The DC Democratic Party enthusiastically supports the goals of the Elections Modernization Amendment Act of 2021
TO: DC Council Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety
FROM: Charles Wilson, DC Democratic Party Chairman
RE: The DC Democratic Party enthusiastically supports the goals of the Elections Modernization Amendment Act of 2021
Chairperson Allen and Members of the Committee,
As the District faces challenges to our self-governance and access to the ballot is under attack across the country, it is critical that DC takes every opportunity to make voting accessible to more residents. On January 13, 2021, the DC Democratic Party overwhelmingly voted to support the stated objectives of the Elections Modernization Amendment Act of 2021. While we believe that it can be improved through amendments or related legislation, this bill makes permanent many voting reforms that the DC Democrats have supported in the past.
This legislation builds on important recent steps such as campaign finance reforms, Automatic Voter Registration, and extending the right to vote to all DC residents, including those with criminal convictions.
By giving every registered voter access to mail-in voting, distributing more ballot drop boxes citywide, and building on the vote centers used during the 2020 election cycle, the Elections Modernization Amendment Act makes substantial progress towards ensuring that every voter in the District gets a chance to have their voice heard.
Faithless Elector Replacement
When discussing the bill with our members, several suggestions were made that could improve its ability to carry out our shared objectives. One topic of concern is the appointment of “any immediately available individual” to stand in for a faithless elector. To ensure that political parties retain the ability to select Presidential electors under existing District of Columbia law, this provision should specify that a replacement elector will be chosen from a list of alternates submitted by the party. Please see Appendix A for further information on this requested clarification.
Voter Education - Senior Citizens and Voters with Disabilities
We encourage the Council to make additional investments in voter education whenever it considers changes to the voting process. It is particularly important to proactively share information with senior centers (please see Appendix B: Proposed Senior Accessibility Amendment) and marginalized voters. Additionally, this Committee should consider amending the bill to provide greater specificity on how the DC Board of Elections should support voters with disabilities and English language learners through this transition. The BOE should consider adding a full-time role for a Disability Integration Officer to protect those voters that are disabled and have functional limitations.
Lessons Learned in 2020
Finally, the DC Democrats urge the Council to work with the Board of Elections to improve on some of the lessons learned in 2020. We heard from some members that DCBOE should open as many vote centers as possible that are at traditional precinct locations. Additionally, the Board should make sure to include the status of ballots sent as part of its ballot tracking software. More than 11% of the ballots were returned as undeliverable in the 2020 election. For some current residents with out-of-date addresses on the voter file, that meant that they never received their ballots. In other cases, ballots were sent to the address of a voter who was deceased or had recently moved. To build trust in the process, the Board should make a greater effort to update voter rolls and catch these errors.
Budget Impact and School Closure
No legislation is perfect and there are always additional changes that could be made. While the final budget impact is not currently available, we urge the Council to be fiscally responsible on this topic as with any other legislation. Our members are also supportive of ensuring that making election day a holiday for the District of Columbia Public Schools will not take away from much-needed time in the classroom over the course of the full school year.
We thank the Committee for considering this legislation that will significantly improve the ability for DC voters to participate in local and national elections. The Elections Modernization Amendment Act is the next step in delivering election protections and expansions throughout DC. The DC Democratic Party looks forward to continuing to work with you to make the District a model for all other states to follow.
Chairman, DC Democratic Party
Appendix A: Faithless Elector Replacement
THE PROPOSED LEGISLATION DEPRIVES THE DC DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE IN THE SELECTION OF ELECTORS, AND DIMINISHES THE HONOR OF BEING AN ELECTOR; THE DC DEMOCRATIC PARTY SHOULD SELECT ALTERNATES IN PLACE OF UNFAITHFUL ELECTORS
Under District of Columbia law, the party whose candidates win the popular vote for President and Vice-President of the United States selects the electors who then vote in the electoral college. i Existing law does not have a way to enforce the law if an elector is unfaithful and fails to vote for the winners of the general election. The proposed legislation remedies that issue by removing an unfaithful elector and canceling their vote.
But that raises the question. Who selects replacements for the unfaithful electors? Under the proposed legislation, the remaining electors choose the new electors. And the replacements can be “any immediately available individual.” ii But that selection deprives the party of its rightful place in the process under existing District of Columbia law. It also diminishes the honor of being an elector, who in past years were selected by the party based on their contributions to the community.
The bill lays out a process to remove and replace an elector based on best practices being implemented across the county, presumably the Uniform Act now adopted by six states. iii But under the Uniform Act, the party selects alternates who serve in place of an unfaithful elector. iv Washington State’s law, which was based on the Uniform Act, was upheld by the US Supreme Court. v Under Washington State’s law, the party selects alternate electors.vi Alternates serve in the event the originally selected electors are unfaithful.
The proposed legislation should be amended so that the party, in addition to selecting the electors, selects alternates to serve in the event that electors become unfaithful. That way, the party retains its role in the process consistent with existing law, and electors are not arbitrarily
selected. Attached is proposed language from the Washington State law, which allows alternate electors to be appointed from those alternates who are present who were selected by the party. It is an honor to be selected by the party to be an elector on behalf of the District of Columbia.vii It would also be an honor to be selected as an alternate.
James S. Bubar
i D.C. Code § 1-1001.08 (d) (2022)
ii Elections Modernization Amendment Act of 2021, Sec. 3 (e) amending D.C. Code § 1- 1001.08 (g) (2022)
iii Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act, September 28, 2010 (“Uniform Act”). As of October 2019, the Uniform Act has been adopted by Indiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, and Washington. See link: https://www.fairvote.org/faithless_elector_state_laws
iv Uniform Act, Section 3
v Chiafalo Et Al. v. Washington, U.S. Supreme Court, Decided July 6, 2020
vi 2019 Wa. SB 5074, enacted, April 26, 2019; Wash. Rev. Code §§ 29A.56.090 (3) and 29A.56.088 (2021)
vii D.C. Code § 1-1001.08 (d) (2022) would also have to be amended to include alternates.
Appendix B: Proposed Senior Accessibility Amendment
January 16, 2022
TO: Charles Wilson, Chairman, DC Democratic State Committee
FROM: Gordon A. Fletcher, Esq., Chairman, Ward 5 Democrats
SUBJ: Proposed Senior Accessibility Amendment to the Modernization Act of 2021
Please replace the earlier version with the attached revision. We would like to propose the following draft as our amendment to be added to the Modernization Act of 2021 proposed by Councilmember Charles Allen. We propose the following elements be added as an amendment:
1. The DC Board of Elections (DCBOE) will conduct on-site voter’s education and registration at each of the 25 public and 51 private housing senior residences, as well as at each of the senior nursing homes/ assisted living facilities and group homes in the District of Columbia.
2. DCBOE will hire and train “Ambassadors” who will be assigned to rotate to senior buildings and charged with providing consistent, non-partisan voter registration and education for seniors throughout the District of Columbia. The Ambassadors should be paid the same fee as poll workers.
3. DCBOE will provide on-site voter’s container drop boxes to facilitate the deposit of mail-in ballots at all senior public/ private senior housing facilities, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and group homes.
4. The District Council will allocate the necessary funding for DCBOE to carry out this initiative to ensure that the senior population – the strongest and the most consistently active voting bloc in the District of Columbia -- will be empowered by having maximum access to voter registration and education.
Gordon A. Fletcher, Esq.
Chairman, Ward 5 Democrats