At-large D.C. Councilmember Christina Henderson poses with arms crossed
At-large D.C. Councilmember Christina Henderson. Credit: Photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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Christina Henderson rolls up to Nationals Park around 9:15 a.m. It’s quiet. There are no lines, just like at the other polling places she’s visited this morning—good for democracy, bad for catching voters with a last-minute pitch before they cast their ballots.

Henderson, a first-time candidate seeking one of the two at-large seats up for grabs on the D.C. Council, says she’s talked to several people in the past week who knew little about her race, let alone that they could cast two votes.

“They’re like ‘I know what I’m doing for president. That’s what I’m here to do,’” Henderson says. “So if you happen to catch those people, that’s a plus for you.” It helps that her name is listed first on the ballot.

As of Tuesday morning, D.C. residents cast more than 282,000 ballots by mail, in drop boxes or at early voting centers, according to the D.C. Board of Elections. That number is about 90 percent of total votes cast in 2016. Unofficial results will start to roll in after 8 p.m. Tuesday, when polls close. Henderson says her second vote went to Jeanné Lewis. She declines to tell LL who she picked in the at-large State Board of Education race.

Henderson is a former staffer for At-Large Councilmember David Grosso (who has endorsed her) and is taking a leave of absence from her job on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer‘s staff. She’s considered one of the top five candidates, and has an endorsement from the Washington Post. But she’s up against opponents with more name recognition and a longer track record in D.C.

Outside the stadium, Henderson sees a familiar face. For the past week, Cindy Alvaraez has handed out campaign materials for Henderson. But today she’s wearing a Marcus Goodwin T-shirt.

The 21-year-old University of Maryland student responded to an ad for temporary campaign work and didn’t have a shift working for Henderson on Election Day, so Goodwin’s team picked her up.

“I love Christina’s ideas,” Alvaraez says. “Goodwin, he’s just really nice to me. He’s a nice guy.” She says she’s been telling people to vote for both candidates.

Alvaraez has never worked for a political campaign before and says she knew little about local politics before this week.

“It’s very aggressive but very passionate at the same time,” she says. “They really care about politics here. I didn’t know there was a lot of drama going on with developers.”

Luz Martinez, a staffer for Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, is also here, handing out fliers for At-Large Councilmember Robert White, the Democratic nominee for one of the two at-large seats up for election this year. Sam Rosen-Amy, a staffer for At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, is handing out literature for Ed Lazere. At-large candidate Markus Batchelor is here, too. He echoes Henderson’s observation about the local race.

“I think about 60 to 70 percent of the folks really haven’t had a decision made,” says Batchelor, the Ward 8 representative on the State Board of Education. Talking to voters on their way to vote has been a big deal, he says.

With so little foot traffic, Henderson moves on. 

As she pulls up to Eastern Market, she gets a text from a friend. It’s a screenshot of a campaign text they just received: “Today is Election Day! Please vote for Christina Anderson 4 DC Council at Large. # 2 on the Ballot. Thanks!”

Henderson is actually No. 1 on the ballot, and her last name, obviously, is Henderson, not Anderson.

“VO told somebody, ‘Oh, I’m not worried about the girl,” Henderson says, suggesting one of her opponents, Vincent Orange, is behind the confounding text message. Asked if he’s sending the sneaky text blasts, Orange, who is No. 2 on the ballot, responds “Hell no!”

“That’s dirty pool,” says Jessica Sutter, the Ward 6 State Board of Education representative, who is holding one of Henderson’s campaign signs. “That is not cool.”

Sutter says she’s supporting Henderson because “she’s really smart and thoughtful about policy and we need someone who can hit the ground running especially with her work on education both in her work for [DC Public Schools] and on the Council.”

Christina Henderson with Ward 6 SBOE Rep. Jessica Sutter campaigning in Eastern Market. Photo by Mitch Ryals.

“She appeals to a broad swath of Washingtonians,” Sutter says. “The city’s getting more diverse, and that means the interests of people are more diverse.”

Even though the two don’t completely align on education issues, Sutter says their conversations have left her with new ideas and new questions. Sutter’s second at-large Council vote went to Robert White, and she’s supporting Jacque Patterson for the at-large seat on the SBOE.

Nearby, U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) is encouraging passersby at Eastern Market to vote for Goodwin. Clay lost his primary race to progressive activist Cori Bush, who is closely aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

Clay says he’s known Goodwin’s family for 40 years (he knew Goodwin’s father when the two were in college), and supports Goodwin’s “sound fiscal policy.” Clay acknowledges that he isn’t familiar with the other at-large candidates, but believes Goodwin “has very well thought out programs and policy.”

“[He] will make the city a better place for all of us,” Clay says. “And [will] balance gentrified parts of the city with established parts of the city.”

Before Henderson departs for another polling location, Pastor Ben Hogue stops to lend his support. The former teacher and current pastor at Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill, says he’s excited for a “strong female voice on the Council, and to really bridge all the wards together.”

Hogue says he only cast one vote in the at-large race, a tactic known as bullet voting.

“Is that a strategy?” he asks. “I really wish we could rank.”

Henderson agrees. She acknowledges that if she wins, it will likely be with less than 50 percent of the vote.

“One of the first bills I want to introduce is ranked choice voting because I feel like incumbents need to step up and say this system is not working,” she says. “As long as we’re having public financing, we’re going to have more people [run for office].”

Henderson says she’s been running sort of like she would under a ranked voting system.

“If I can get enough second votes off of enough other candidates, we’ll see what happens,” she says.