D.C. elections board will spend $30,000 to resend postcard


Language indicating “only vote center open for this election” confused some recipients of the original postcard. (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)

D.C. elections officials are planning to resend a postcard containing information on the upcoming citywide special election to nearly 300,000 city households after fielding complaints that the initial mailing was confusing.

The second mailing is estimated to cost $30,000, said Clifford Tatum, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections — about $11,000 to print revised cards plus postage.

The first postcard, which arrived in many households Monday, carried the ambiguous line “One Judiciary Square is the only vote center open for this election.”

One Judiciary Square, the location of board headquarters, is the only early voting center open for the election — in most other recent city elections, early voting centers have opened in all eight wards. Early voting is set to take place from April 8 through April 20, with the exception of April 14, a Sunday, and April 16, D.C. Emancipation Day.

On Election Day, Tuesday, April 23, all 143 polling places will open as usual. The postcard contains the correct date and hours for election day, but the “only vote center” language led to significant confusion.

“It’s a costly error … a very costly error,” said D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who chairs the Government Operations panel that oversees elections. “The board simply can’t afford to make these errors going forward.”

Tatum said he signed off on the postcard before it was sent out and has been surprised by the reaction, which he said had included “numerous calls” from city officials and regular voters alike.

“I didn’t think there would be confusion between vote centers and polling places,” he said. “On Election Day, we open polling places, not vote centers. I didn’t think that our voters would read it that way.”

The new card will contain corrected language on the front and back, he said, making clear that all 143 precincts will be open April 23 and that One Judiciary Square is the “only early vote center” that will be opening. Cards for about 291,000 households should be in the mail by Saturday, Tatum said.

The $30,000 decision to rectify the error comes a week after Board of Elections Chairman Deborah K. Nichols told the D.C. Council that it was “nickel-and-diming the electorate” by failing to provide the full $1.05 million the board had requested to administer the election.

The mistake’s price tag, “in the grand scheme of trying to finance a special election, is significant,” McDuffie said.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · April 2, 2013