It’s official: D.C. primary turnout was historically bad

It was clear before polls even closed that the turnout for the District’s April 1 primary elections was bad. But, with thousands of absentee and provisional ballots outstanding, it remained to be seen whether the turnout was historically bad.

Now that the tallies are complete and ready for certification next week, have no doubt: 2014 was the lowest-turnout mayoral primary since the dawn of home rule in 1974. Only 99,395 — 27 percent of registered voters — cast ballots, beating the previous low of 32.1 percent in 1998, which was also the last time fewer than 100,000 voted in a mayoral primary.

The following chart tells the tale. The Board of Elections did not have official turnout figures readily available for 1974 and 1978, but contemporary Washington Post accounts of those elections pegged those turnouts at around 40 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

(Source: D.C. Board of Elections)
(Source: D.C. Board of Elections)

Now in raw terms, fewer votes were cast in 1974, 1978, 1986 and 1998, but the registration base was considerably smaller in those years. A growing population and a jump in Democratic registrations ahead of the 2008 presidential race have kept the rolls relatively swollen. But it’s hard to dispute that the first-time April primary date and a lack of enthusiasm for the leading candidate contributed to the record-low turnout percentage.

On a precinct-by-precinct basis, turnout dropped most precipitously in the eastern half of the city, particularly east of the Anacostia River, in onetime strongholds for Mayor Vincent C. Gray. In 17 precincts, turnout dropped by 15 percentage points or more.

The new pre-certification totals also offer the best apples-to-apples glimpse into Gray’s collapse in support, which unsurprisingly mirror the collapse in turnout. His support among registered Democratic voters dropped by 15 percentage points or more in a staggering 55 precincts — all of them in wards that Gray won in 2010. In Precinct 66 alone, encompassing the areas around Fort Totten in Northeast, Gray garnered 918 fewer votes this year than he did in 2010.

And lastly, here are the 10 precincts where Gray lost the most support between 2010 and 2014. The precincts are ranked by the change in percentage of registered Democrats who voted for Gray:


(Source: D.C. Board of Elections)
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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