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Incumbents looking to pump their numbers at the polls on Tuesday may not have much to show for it given early voting tallies released by the D.C. Board of Elections.
Only a little more than 3 percent of the District’s nearly 477,000 registered voters (as of May 31), or 14,492 people, cast ballots during the early voting period for the June 19 primary races, which ran from June 4 to June 15. Polling places in Wards 7 and 8, both located east of the Anacostia River, had the lowest numbers of early voters, while the polling place in Ward 2, which was centrally located and provided paper ballots, had the highest number.
In 2016, the last time D.C. Council seats were up for grabs and a presidential election year, slightly more than 4 percent of the District’s approximately 462,000 registered voters voted early in primaries. In 2014, a mayoral election year—and a competitive one at that—just under 4 percent of roughly 369,000 registered voters cast early ballots.
Including election day, those years saw final primary turnout rates of about one-fifth and one-fourth, respectively. Because three-in-four District voters are registered Democrats, the candidates who win the Democratic primaries typically go on to win the November general elections.
Political observers and party operatives say the lack of viable challengers currently running against Mayor Muriel Bowser could result in some voters staying at home. But one curveball is the effect that Initiative 77, the controversial ballot measure to eventually eliminate the tipped minimum wage for restaurant servers and other tipped workers in D.C. (read more about it here, here, and here), could have on turnout.
Even if that initiative compels new or rare voters to go to the polls, though, it’s not guaranteed that they would also vote in the mayoral and D.C. Council races on the ballot. Besides Bowser, the Wilson Building incumbents seeking re-election are Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen.
Bowser, Bonds, Nadeau, and McDuffie all face multiple challengers who will likely split anti-incumbent votes. Across races, most of the challengers seeking office are first-time candidates with limited name-recognition and financial backing, though some like Ed Lazere in the chairman’s race as well as Jeremiah Lowery and Marcus Goodwin in the at-large race have energized voters. (Read more about the candidates in the contested races in City Paper‘s 2018 election guide.)
“I’m a little frustrated,” says longtime Ward 5 politico Bob King, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner who has helped bus seniors to the polls on behalf of paying candidates since the 1970s, including earlier this month for early voting. “This is the first year since Walter Washington that I’m unable to provide transportation to seniors on primary day.”
“This is probably going to be the worst turnout we’ve ever had,” adds King, 73. He notes that incumbents may sweep the elections on Tuesday, but not secure mandates to govern. “It’s going to set us on the course of a very dangerous situation,” King says. “We cannot afford to have those numbers keep going down.”
Polling locations are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and voters can find their voting locations on the D.C. Board of Elections website here.