Updated at 10:52 a.m.
City officials agreed Friday to settle a lawsuit filed by a local Orthodox rabbi over the scheduling of a special election during a Jewish holiday.
According to the settlement agreement (PDF), Washington Mayor Vincent Gray (D) will introduce and support legislation to the D.C. Council within three months that would give the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics more flexibility in scheduling elections.
Instead of requiring that special elections take place the first Tuesday more than 114 days after a council seat becomes vacant, the new legislation (PDF) would give the board a window of between 100 and 130 days.
“The proposed legislation, when enacted by the city council, will specifically give the board of elections the authority and direct them to schedule elections so they do not occur on religious holidays,” said Steven Lieberman of Washington’s Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbech, who represented Herzfeld."This is a win for everybody," he added.
In a written statement, Ted Gest, a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, said that, "we are pleased that this case was settled on a sensible basis, without any financial cost to the city and with limited court involvement." Representatives of the mayor’s office and the Board of Elections and Ethics did not immediately return a request for comment.
Herzfeld, who leads Ohev Shalom-The National Synagogue in Northwest Washington, failed to secure an emergency injunction in April that would have forced the city to reschedule or extend hours during a special election on April 26. That day was the eighth and final day of Passover; observant Jews are prohibited from signing their name or completing an electronic circuit, in effect barring them from casting a ballot.
Herzfeld pursued his lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after the election; the court denied the injunction because early voting was already underway and the city was offering alternative absentee voting options.
The rabbi and his co-plaintiffs claimed that by requiring observant Jews to take more steps to vote than other residents, the board violated their First and Fifth Amendment rights. The board had argued that its hands were tied by the 114-day rule set out in D.C. Home Rule Act.