Judge dismisses lawsuit against D.C. ranked-choice voting ballot measure

By Ellie Silverman

March 29, 2024 at 6:00 a.m. EDT

A ballot initiative that would bring ranked-choice voting to D.C. and allow independent voters to participate in party primaries cleared another hurdle Thursday when a D.C. Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit attempting to block the measure.

In a ruling filed Thursday, Judge Carl E. Ross determined that the lawsuit was filed prematurely and affirmed the city’s motion to dismiss the case.

The campaign to open up primaries to independent voters and bring ranked-choice voting to the city launched in May and later became known as Initiative 83. It would allow more than 73,000 people registered as “unaffiliated” with a party to vote in D.C.’s primary elections, which are closed to those voters, starting in 2026. It would also implement a ranked-choice balloting system in the city, meaning voters could rank candidates for an office in order of preference. Supporters argued these changes would make elections more accessible.

There are still several steps ahead before Initiative 83 reaches the ballot or becomes law.

Supporters must gather enough signatures by July 8 for ballot consideration. The initiative may end up facing additional legal challenges and ultimately still needs to secure enough votes come Election Day. So far, supporters have collected more than 10,000 signatures, a third of the goal of 30,000, according to a campaign news release.

Initiative 83 has drawn opposition from the D.C. Democratic Party, which filed this lawsuit and a previous one last summer. The first lawsuit was withdrawn in November 2023. In both suits, the D.C. Democratic Party argued that the measure violates the U.S. Constitution and Home Rule charter.

The party argues that opening the city’s primaries would violate voters’ rights protected by the First and Fifth amendments to freely associate with a political party and that the city’s Home Rule charter instructs voters to elect the mayor, attorney general and members of the D.C. Council on a “partisan” basis.

It’s not clear what the D.C. Democratic Party will now do. Charles Wilson, chair of the D.C. Democratic Party, said he will continue to talk with party leaders to determine next steps.

“Our role as a party is to fight and advocate for democrats and we will continue to do so,” Wilson said in a statement. “We want to uphold the principles outlined in the Home Rule Charter and advocate for an electoral system that ensures fair representation in our Democratic elections.”

Lisa D.T. Rice, a Ward 7 advisory neighborhood commissioner who is leading the initiative, said this dismissal is giving the campaign a boost of energy as it gathers signatures and pushes the initiative forward.

“When independents have the ability to vote in these primaries, we will have many more people who will be able to participate in our democracy,” Rice said. “That’s what we really want, that’s what this coalition wants, more democracy.”

Meagan Flynn and Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report.

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