UPDATE 9 P.M.
The last time the District held a citywide special election, in 1997, there was a rather stark difference between voter turnout in the city’s four most heavily African American wards (4, 5, 7 and 8) and its four least African American wards (1, 2, 3 and 6).
If absentee voting figures are any indication, that trend will continue with tomorrow’s special election to select an at-large D.C. Council member and State Board of Education members in wards 4 and 8.
In 1997, 64.2 percent of the total votes cast came from the four least African American wards — with more than a quarter of the vote coming from Ward 3, the city’s whitest. This year, voters from those wards have requested or have already cast 61.5 percent of the total absentee ballots.
The geographic and racial composition of the electorate is important, it goes nearly without saying. Of the nine candidates on the ballot, Vincent Orange has been running the most energetic campaign in wards 7 and 8. As Tim Craig reported over the weekend, one Orange flier touted him thusly: “He walks like us. He talks like us. He has a record of working for us.” (Sekou Biddle, Joshua Lopez, Dorothy Douglas and Tom Brown have also strongly pursued east-of-the river votes.)
But it remains to be seen whether Orange can rely on that vote to carry him to victory, when other candidates — Biddle, Lopez, Patrick Mara and Bryan Weaver — are fighting to win over the (relatively) voter-rich western wards.
Caveats: Not all of the absentee ballots requested will be mailed in. And while more than 60 percent of the absentee ballots are coming from the “white wards,” those wards also historically submit a higher proportion of absentee ballots than the other wards.
The absentee numbers appear to indicate a higher turnout Tuesday than in 1997, when only 25,701 voted. More than three times more absentee ballots have been requested than were submitted in 1997 — though absentee voting was subject to many more restrictions then.
In terms of party breakdown, 79.3 percent of the voters who have requested an absentee ballot or voted early are Democrats — a slightly higher proportion than the 75.8 percent of registered city voters who are Dems. Republican voters represent 10.3 percent of the absentee or early voters — significantly higher than the 6.6 percent of total registered voters, but probably not enough to give Mara, the sole GOP candidate, an overwhelming advantage.
UPDATE, 3:15 P.M.: Paul Stenbjorn, the Board of Elections and Ethics’ IT chief, notes that I used the total number of absentee ballots mailed — not just the ones that have been returned. He also points out that the District has many voters who are on an extended absentee period or are permanent absentee voters — in other words, who have not specifically requested a ballot for this race and are thus less likely to return theirs.
Taking into account only returned mail ballots, the ward differences are less stark. Wards 7 and 8 still trail, but the other six wards are much closer; Ward 3 surrenders its lead. Also note: Absentee ballots postmarked by Tuesday can still be received and counted until May 6.
UPDATE, 9 P.M.: Here is yet another set of numbers, which includes the final tally from the day’s in-person voting. Also: the returned mail ballot figures in the 3:15 update were incorrect — those were actually the total returned mail ballots plus the in-person ballots. This chart is more accurate, and shows that my whole thesis appears to be entirely incorrect — the “white wards” have only a 55-45 advantage, significant less than in 1997. Good news for Orange?