Nearly 1,100 D.C. voters cast first-ever early ballots for mayor

Voters in D.C. cast ballots Tuesday in the closely watched Democratic primary race for mayor between Adrian Fenty and Vincent C. Gray.
By Mike DeBonis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Almost 1,100 voters cast the city's first-ever no-excuse early ballots Monday, kicking off a voting period set to stretch over 15 days.

Monday's balloting also marked the debut of new voting equipment and the first time that new voters could register at polling places on the same day they cast a vote.

About 75 voters were already in line to vote when polls opened at 8:30 a.m. Residents could vote only at the One Judiciary Square building downtown, home of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics headquarters. Elections officials expect that more than 20 percent of the total ballots will be cast before the Sept. 14 primary day.

Rokey W. Suleman II, the board's executive director, cast the first vote Monday morning, a paper ballot.

Right behind him was Joseph Bishop, 75. A Ward 4 resident, Bishop said he didn't intend to be one of the first voters, but he showed up at 6:30 a.m. to volunteer for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's reelection campaign.

"If I'm going to vote, I may as well get it out of the way," he said. He called early voting a "good example of the city being innovative."

"I think it's great," said fellow early voter Roxana Olivas, 37, of Brookland. "It's civic participation."

In all, 1,094 ballots were cast Monday, the elections board said. Voting will continue at One Judiciary Square daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sundays excepted. Starting Saturday, voters also will be able to cast early ballots at four polling places scattered through the city -- at the Chevy Chase Community Center in Upper Northwest, at Hine Middle School on Capitol Hill, at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Brookland and at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Congress Heights.

Any registered voter can also request a mail ballot through Sept. 7. So far, about 4,000 voters have requested to vote by mail.

Outside the polls, candidates and their campaigns stumped hard for votes, many of them with megaphones. The amplifiers led to some tense moments.

Mayoral candidate Vincent C. Gray rallied his supporters at a morning news conference touting his union and business endorsements. As the event got underway, a megaphone-equipped Fenty partisan, Josh Lopez, loudly touted his candidate as cameras rolled.

Some Gray supporters confronted Lopez, but a D.C. Chamber of Commerce executive pulled them away.

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