Bracing for a Record Turnout

Bob King helps seniors fill out absentee ballots as a get out the vote effort, but most want to be taken to the polls so they cast a ballot in person that they believe will be part of history.Video by Hamil Harris/Washington Post
By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 30, 2008

In Northeast Washington, Robert "Bob" King, a Fort Lincoln Advisory Neighborhood Commission member, was distributing absentee ballots and telling a group of senior citizens about the 20-bus caravan that will shuttle them to the polls Tuesday.

In Northwest, the American University Students for Obama have posted on their Web site that 278 students have made more than 17,000 calls, knocked on 211 doors and raised more than $57,000 in an effort to help elect Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) president.

At polls across the city, D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) is hoping to stage a successful write-in campaign to keep her seat. Schwartz is facing Republican Patrick Mara, who defeated her in the September primary, and four other candidates: the Green Party's David Schwartzman and independents Michael A. Brown, Dee Hunter and Mark Long. The three running as independents are Democrats who thought they'd have a better chance in the general election instead of facing council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) in the Democratic primary.

The city's 143 voting precincts are expected to be packed with voters Tuesday, and officials at the D.C. Board of Elections are bracing for a record turnout. In recent days, the office has been jammed with people coming to cast walk-in absentee ballots.

The board, beleaguered since it fumbled returns in the primary election, has 600,000 ballots and has hired an additional 300 people as poll workers since September. Board officials report that there are 426,767 registered voters in the city and that they expect those numbers to decrease after the election. The board does not scrub the rolls until after the election, spokesman Dan Murphy said.

"We have a lot of interest in the election this year, and that is fantastic," said Murphy, whose board offices were packed last week with several thousand people casting walk-in absentee ballots.

But concerns over the board bubbled up again last week after members of the D.C. Republican Party were alarmed to discover that an absentee ballot had turned up without the name of the Republican candidate for the Ward 2 council seat on it.

"We are very concerned and alarmed when a registered Republican gets an absentee ballot without the name of the Republican candidate for council in Ward 2, Christina Culver," said Paul Craney, the District's Republican executive director. "We hope that the District of Columbia will have a fair election on November 4th, but it is very alarming."

Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who heads a committee investigating the board's September primary missteps, also blasted its leadership over the weekend after learning from the company that supplies the board with its voting equipment that there were 126 flawed ballots. Cheh had been critical of the board and the company, Sequoia Voting Systems, in its initial report about the Sept. 9 primary, in which a blunder caused thousands of phantom votes to appear in initial results.

Cheh said the elections will be heavily monitored.

Meanwhile, people such as 96-year-old Clara Thomas are eagerly awaiting their chance to vote.

"It is very important for us to vote, because we have waited all of these years, getting this close to the White House," said Thomas, who lives at the Petersburg Senior Center in Northeast.

"This is something that we have wanted down through the years, and now we are almost there," she said of Obama's candidacy.

When King arrived at the senior building with forms for the seniors to cast absentee ballots, he was surprised when some told him that they preferred to vote in person Tuesday because it is a historic occasion.

"Even though many have failing health, they want to come out of their house and vote on Election Day," King said.

"This election is critical, because there are more than 10,000 senior citizens who need to get to the polls," he said. "The senior citizens are the most reliable and stable election block in the city. They represent 16 percent of the population."

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