Still two weeks before the D.C. primary elections, right? Wrong. Early voting is underway at One Judiciary Square, 441 Fourth St. NW.
If you’re in the vicinity or want to take a leisurely lunch break, now might be a good time to hop on the Red Line and go vote for president, delegate to Congress, D.C. Council members and shadow senator. Board of Elections and Ethics spokeswoman Alysoun McLaughlin said that as of 12:30 p.m., 54 people had voted — in other words, there’s no line.
If you’re looking for a more convenient location, early voting expands next Saturday to seven additional locations scattered through the city. With the exception of the following Sunday, all locations will be open daily after that until Saturday, March 31. Any city voter can vote at any of the early voting locations.
If you are smitten with the ritual of visiting your local polling place on Election Day, do so between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on April 3.
Note that this is the first time that the presidential and local primaries are taking place in the same election. But given that President Obama has no competition on the Democratic ballot, don’t expect the presidential race to drive up turnout much.
While the District has not seen an uncontested Democratic presidential primary since home rule, turnout has dipped under 10 percent twice in fait accompli races.
On May 7, 1996, only 8.4 percent of Democratic voters turned out to overwhelmingly renominate Bill Clinton for a second term over Lyndon LaRouche. On May 2, 2000, 8.8 percent of Democrats showed up to give a similarly overwhelming victory to Vice President Al Gore over LaRouche. (New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley had dropped out by that point.)
Note that presidential incumbency isn’t necessarily enough to keep turnout down. Thirty-five percent of voters turned out May 7, 1980, to give Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy nearly 62 percent of the vote against doomed incumbent Jimmy Carter. Local turnout, however, was also driven up by a referendum that would have legalized betting on jai alai, dog racing and numbers games; it was soundly defeated.
The high-water mark for D.C. presidential primary turnout was 1984, when 112,000 Democratic voters — nearly 50 percent of the rolls — turned out to give Jesse Jackson a landslide victory over Sen. Gary Hart (Colo.) and eventual nominee Walter Mondale.
This year, elections officials are hoping for a high turnout, citing both the newly combined local and national primaries and the expansion of early voting.
“We do think the ward early voting sites are going to be popular,” McLaughlin said.