Last night, winner Muriel Bowser received about 20,000 fewer votes than Adrian Fenty did when he lost the primary in 2010. She got 35,899 votes, while Fenty, who lost to Mayor Vince Gray, had gotten 59,524 votes. This year, Gray only managed about one-third of the votes he did when he won in 2010 (26,209 to 72,648).
That’s all to say that voter turnout was dismally low yesterday. There are 369,037 registered voters in D.C., according to the D.C. Board of Elections, and only 83,040 cast a ballot in the primaries. That’s a total turnout rate of just 22.5 percent, though Democratic voters mustered a slightly higher rate of 24.12 percent. (Those figures will go up once absentee ballots and special ballots are included, but not by that much.)
This year’s mayoral primary, in fact, saw the lowest voter turnout of any primary with the city’s top job on the line since 1992. Why? Start with the fact that it was held in April, not September, when primaries used to be conducted; it could’ve also had something to do with an uninspiring crop of candidates, a possibility that even Jack Evans, the Ward 2 councilmember and mayoral candidate, raised last night.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced legislation back in May to move the primary to June, but the bill has been stuck in committee because of a lack of support. His main concern with the early primary is that if incumbents lose, like Gray and Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham did, there will be a nine-month lame-duck period (also for Tommy Wells, who didn’t seek re-election to the Ward 6 seat). But Mendelson hopes the low turnout will compel his colleagues to get behind the bill. He says he’s already talked to some councilmembers today about moving the legislation forward.
“I am hopeful that enough minds have changed that the bill has a chance of getting out of committee,” he says. “I think it contributed to the lower turnout, I’m not sure it affected the results, but I do think it affected the turnout.”