With less than a month left until the Aug. 11 registration deadline for the Sept. 9 primary election, only about 256,500 Washington residents have registered to vote.
Delores Woods, D.C. deputy elections administrator, estimates that between 350,000 and 400,000 city residents are eligible to vote, but said registration is "moving along as we'd expected."
Voter turnout is not characteristically high in the District, she said, adding many who do register fail to show up on election day.
"People are watching to see if D.C. really wants to vote," Woods said. "Low voter turnout is what gives people the impression that average Washington residents aren't interested in the political process."
Efforts to encourage people to register and vote have increased within the last month, she noted.
Among those working to register residents are the Mayor's Youth Leadership Program, which has about 25 young people registering students and staff at Howard University; the Dix Street Academy at First and I streets SW; Front Lash, 815 16th St. NW; the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, 1126 16th St. NW and D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners.
Joanie Hartman, coordinator of the Dix Street Academy drive, wants more young blacks to sign up.
"There is a very large population of blacks between the ages of 18 and 26 in the District," Hartman said, "and if they really realized their power and potential, they would have an enormous impact and control on the government of the District of Columbia.
"But so many of them think, 'What good is my one vote?' They just don't know, and it's our job to help them understand how important it is.
"I don't think it's apathy. They just haven't been helped to see the power in their numbers. It's so important for this city's black population to get to the polls and make themselves heard."
"The bulk of the population here is working class, and by not voting they lose their political clout," Debra Brodlie, a coordinator of the Front Lash voting drive, said. The group, a youth labor organization, has been sending canvassers to the job sites to register people.
"Working people have the greatest numbers and the smallest say in the process," Brodlie said. "When an entire group of people begins to think that their voice doesn't count, they tend to give up.
"That's particularly dangerous in the District with the voting rights issue at stake. Low-income people and minorities are the bulk of the voting population here, and nobody's going to fight to give them representation in Congress.
"That's something they have to win for themselves. So if they don't bother to vote on the little issues, people outside the District aren't going to be inclined to help them with the big one."
Woods cautioned newcomers to the city to make certain their old registrations have been cancelled before voting here.
To vote in Washington, a person must be at least 18 years old on or before the date of the next election, be a U.S. citizen, have been a D.C. resident for at least 30 days and not be registered elsewhere.
Registration forms are available at the board of elections in the District Building and at all D.C. public libraries. The forms must be completed and returned at least 30 days before an election. The board then sends the voter a stub which must be presented at the polling place.
Woods said she expects to see more registrations in the period just before the November general election" because people get much more interested when it's time to choose a president."
Perhaps 3,000 more persons can be expected to sign up within the next month, she added, since there usually is a surge of registrations right before an election.
The registration deadline for the Nov. 4 general election is Oct. 6.