Democratic voters in the 8th Council District – of which Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and Germantown are a part – face an unusual prospect for the May 21 primary election. If circumstances remain unchanged, there will be no primary.

In March, it looked like voters were going to have an interesting choice to make. Incumbent councilperson Cindy Bass had gained two opponents. But challenges to petitions, an age-old tactic in city and state elections, ruled both opponents ineligible.

One was Patrick Jones, an East Mt. Airy resident and former staffer of Bass, who was putting together a campaign focused on economic development for the district. After filing his petition, more than half of his petition signees were challenged. Jones promptly pulled out of the race.

The other challenger, Tonya Bah, an activist resident of Olney, managed to get her signatures over the threshold of 750, but failed to file financial paperwork with the right person. The city commissioners promptly struck her from the ballot.

Rather than step down, Bah has vowed to fight the decision and hopes to get back on the ballot before the primary election. The failure to file, she said, is a technicality. She said the same at a meet the candidates night in Mt. Airy last week.

“There was no malicious intent on our part,” she said. “We weren’t trying to deceive anyone.”

Councilperson Bass took credit for Bah’s predicament, using the pronoun “we” to rebut the assertion that Bah’s removal was a technicality.

“What I want to acknowledge is while we did remove Ms. Bah from the ballot, there is no such thing as a ‘hyper-technicality,’” Bass said at last week’s meeting.

Bass insisted that rules are rules, and accurately described those rules as state regulations. If Bah couldn’t be trusted to figure out the technical intricacies of the filing process, Bass insisted, then how could she be expected to master governing and legislation in the sixth biggest city in the United States?

While that’s a fair enough point, that judgment really should be left to the voters of the 8th District. If they believe that failing to file a financial disclosure form with the right office is more than a technicality, they can certainly let that be known at the ballot box.

If Bah does not win her challenge, voters in the district won’t get that choice. In a city where Democratic registration levels and inept Republican candidates have made May primaries de facto general elections, this is particularly galling. It leaves voters with no mechanism to hold Bass accountable. That decision will have been made for them by the City Commissioner’s office.

Bass is not doing anything out of the ordinary or underhanded here. This is the way elections work in this city. Perhaps it’s time to change that. The status quo does nothing but further disillusion and disenfranchise an already deeply skeptical electorate. And that’s not a technicality. It’s deliberate.

Pete Mazzaccaro

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