As expected, voter turnout for today’s D.C. special election is light — but not evenly light. Several campaigners say that more voters than expected are coming to polls in the city’s western reaches, while eastern wards are lagging.
”We’re seeing turnout like nobody’s business west of the park,” said Douglass Sloan, campaign manager for Vincent Orange, running as a Democrat for an at-large D.C. Council seat.
“It’s a ghost town in [wards] 5 and 7,” said Bryan Weaver, a Democrat also running for the council seat.
“I feel like it’s trending lower than in ’97,” said Mike Price, campaign manager for Democrat Sekou Biddle, referring to the last citywide special election, in which only about 25,000 voters cast ballots.
Republican candidate Patrick Mara said that he was pleased with what he’s seen so far, with better-than-expected turnout in areas where he is expected to do well. “If everyone who said they’re voting for me is voting for me,” he said, “I may be announcing a run for president next week.”
“If you’re Vincent Orange, you’ve got to be really concerned,” Weaver added. “Turnout is going to be so low in his base.”
Price said it was too early to draw conclusions from the turnout patterns, however. “It’s hard to say,” he said. “It’s such small margins that it’s really hard to predict what it means. For us, we’re just concentrating on turning out our voters.”
Sloan said that he was not concerned. “We’re doing the ‘knock and drag,’ ” he said, referring to Orange’s get-out-the-vote operation.
Elections officials dealt with isolated problems as polls opened this morning. Most seriously, polling began about 15 minutes late at Shepherd Park Elementary in Ward 4 — the famously high-voting Precinct 62 — after the polling captain was unable to find a pre-opening checklist. It is the home precinct of Biddle, who is looking to hold on to the at-large council seat he won temporarily in January.
“Of course we’re concerned about it, given that it’s the council member’s home precinct,” Price said. “We just want to make sure that every vote possible is counted.”
Alysoun McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for the Board of Elections and Ethics, said that the precinct captain is highly experienced and “normally on top of her game” but was thrown off by the missing list. “She feels badly the door was not unlocked at 7 a.m.,” she said, adding that while 10 voters left, “at least some of those had since come back and voted.”
Pollbooks — that is, lists of the voters registered in a given precinct — were switched between Precinct 3, in Foggy Bottom, and Precinct 11, in Glover Park. They were switched back within a half-hour, McLaughlin said, but some voters who arrived early were forced to cast a “special ballot” that will be counted after their registration is verified.
There were scattered problems with voting machines, McLaughlin said, but none that prevented voters from casting ballots.
A polling place in Adams Morgan was without pencils for paper ballots this morning, Weaver said, adding that some of his supporters have been asked to provide ID at polls, which is not required. Joshua Lopez, another Democratic candidate, said that he had been concerned about Orange campaign materials that were posted inside a polling place at Dunbar High School, in Ward 5. “That got taken care of,” he said.
Most candidates are spending their day greeting voters outside polling places. Not so for Mara, who was reached this afternoon greeting shoppers outside the Giant grocery score on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Cleveland Park — reminding otherwise unaware voters that there’s an election today.
Other candidates are “standing at polls,” preaching to the already converted, Mara said. “No point in that.”