Neighborhood early-voting sites open in District

By Mike DeBonis and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 5, 2010; C01

Thousands of District voters have already cast early ballots in this year's primaries, as two well-financed mayoral campaigns have begun scouring the city for votes.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and his chief rival, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), crisscrossed the District on Saturday, attending community events and visiting the city's four satellite early-voting sites.

Polls have been open at the downtown headquarters of the Board of Elections and Ethics since Monday; more than 3,400 votes were cast there through Friday. But Saturday represented the first time that District voters could cast early ballots in their neighborhoods -- at Chevy Chase Community Center in Ward 3, Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Ward 5, Hine Junior High School in Ward 6, and the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Ward 8.

On Saturday, more than 3,300 voters showed up to vote. An additional 4,000 have requested mail ballots.

All early-voting sites are closed Sunday, but will reopen for the Monday holiday and remain open through Sept. 11. The hours are 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The One Judiciary Square site will also be open on Monday, Sept. 13 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Saturday's debut was a test of a networked electronic poll-book system that updates almost instantaneously to prevent voters from casting multiple ballots. The elections board did not report any problems with the technology, but polling was marred by an allegation of vote-buying.

A Gray campaign poll watcher working at the Turkey Thicket recreation center said she questioned a young Fenty supporter who told her he was paid $100 to vote.

The man's name and his picture were given to election officials, who said they would refer the matter to federal prosecutors if an initial investigation indicated it was warranted. The Fenty campaign had no comment on the allegation.

In another incident, a voter said that he had been able to cast a Democratic ballot even though he was a registered Republican. David E. Hrdy said a poll worker at Hine mistakenly selected a Democratic ballot on the electronic voting machines. He voted the ballot, selecting Fenty.

Fenty had petitioned the election board last month to allow independent voters to cast primary ballots; the board did not approve the request. "If they let this happen, they might as well allow a same-day [party] switch," said Hrdy, a Lincoln Park resident who said that he was not aware that he was given a real ballot.

Board spokeswoman Alysoun McLaughlin confirmed that Hrdy had checked in as a Republican, but could not confirm that he had voted a Democratic ballot until the Hine early-voting polls close on Sept. 11.

The leading campaigns cited each other for crossing electioneering lines, although McLaughlin said there was no wrongdoing on either side.

Fenty campaigns with Rhee

Fenty started his day in friendly territory, rallying voters near the Chevy Chase early-voting site before polls opened at 8:30. The event marked Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's first appearance at a major campaign event on his behalf, acting as a marquee draw for parents, children in tow, at the Broad Branch Market.

Fenty trails Gray by double digits among Democrats in a Washington Post poll. Last week, Gray picked up the endorsement of Ward 3 council member Mary M. Cheh, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary. Fenty has centered his reelection bid on a promise to retain Rhee as chancellor. Gray has refused to say whether he would retain Rhee as chancellor if he is elected.

Rhee, limited in her political activity by a federal law, told the crowd that she was speaking as a "private citizen."

"What I want to be very, very clear about is that the work is not done yet," Rhee said. "The only way we are going to continue the progress we've seen is to reelect this man here."

Taking a cue from Fenty's campaign message, Rhee acknowledged that Fenty has made mistakes. "He owns those mistakes and is committed to moving forward," Rhee said.

Erik Kvalsik, a Fenty supporter with 7-year-old twins at Lafayette Elementary School, said improvements in schools were not the only reasons to vote for Fenty. "It's citywide progress," he said. "I hate to see it interrupted."

Rhee said in an interview that she would continue to campaign for the mayor as needed on weekends and after work. During the interview, a woman interrupted and said, "I want you to be on the ballot."

Across the city at Hine, about a dozen voters had lined up when polls opened. Most said they were voting for Gray.

"I'm here to make sure that the present mayor isn't the future mayor," said Peggy Hardy, a teacher and Ward 7 resident. "I'm tired of one segment of the people getting all the attention."

Later in the day, as neighborhood residents began to stream into Eastern Market and the adjacent flea market, the polls swelled with Fenty voters.

Leslie Eagle, a Capitol Hill resident, said she was concerned by polls that showed Fenty trailing Gray. "I really felt I needed to vote for him," she said. "I'm worried about him."

Arriving from Chevy Chase, which saw the highest number of votes (1,140) Saturday, Fenty addressed supporters in a brief rally at Seventh and C streets SE, less than a block from Hine.

Rhee joined Fenty with her daughters, although she kept to the side of the rally and did not address the crowd. Several other Fenty administration officials, including his chief of staff and directors of parks and recreation, health care finance and mental health attended the event.

'Fenty's got to go'

At another polling place, the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Congress Heights, Fenty voters were harder to come by.

Bernadine Thomas, a Washington Highlands resident, came to the polls with her neighbor Isabelle Jenkins. Both said they voted for Gray. "Fenty's got to go. I think there's a lot of stuff up his sleeve, to be honest with you," Thomas said.

Each campaign engaged a fleet of minivans to shuttle workers to the polls. Fenty workers kept detailed "passenger manifests" with voter addresses and phone numbers as the vans arrived and departed the polling place.

Phinis Jones, the Fenty campaign's Ward 8 coordinator, said the campaign had delivered two busloads of voters in the morning. "We're just going out to neighborhoods and getting those people who don't traditionally vote to come to the polls," he said, citing ex-offenders and residents of public housing.

Fenty said early voting "is priming the pump" for an Election Day victory by helping to boost turnout.

But Gray disputed that early voting would be the main factor. "I think there's going to be good turnout in this election anyway because it's hotly contested," he said.

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