AT 9:36 p.m. Tuesday, we called the spokeswoman at the D.C. Board of Elections to inquire about the problem that had led to zero reported results, more than an hour and a half after the polls had closed in an Democratic primary election in which turnout was reported to be historically low.
“There’s no problem,” Tamara L. Robinson assured us.
That no one at the elections board seemed to think an utter lack of information in this closely watched election was an issue suggests there really is a problem. How big of a problem became even more apparent as the evening dragged on with sporadic and confused reports.
What returns were there suggested D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) leading Mayor Vincent C. Gray. Ms. Bowser, apparently emboldened by her campaign team’s reporting of posted precinct returns, appeared at a watch party in Ward 8 at 11:30 p.m. to thank her supporters but not to declare victory. That would have to await the unhurried calculations of election officials.
Commentary about the mess dominated social media. “Totally, completely unacceptable” was the apt characterization from one exasperated commenter on Twitter on Tuesday night. “These election results are like watching a pigment bearing vitreous coating gradually diminish in moisture content,” wrote another. A third wrote, “How many years and how many election cycles will @DCBOEE vote tabulation operation be allowed to continue embarrassing our city?” And, “Are two people counting all of the votes?” was a query that likely occurred to a lot of people constantly hitting the refresh button on their browser in the vain hope of seeing some returns.
When we talked to Ms. Robinson, she told us “about a dozen people” were counting the returns. No, she couldn’t really say why the early vote tally hadn’t been done yet. But everyone was working hard, she said, and there would be results “as soon as we can,” although she couldn’t provide any estimate of time. We don’t mean to pile on to Ms. Robinson. We realize that being spokeswoman has its limitations and other people in the agency were responsible for the unacceptable lag in providing timely returns.
It really shouldn’t be too much to expect that an agency whose job is to tabulate and report results will do so in a more expeditious manner. More than two hours after polls closed, only a few thousand votes had been tabulated and reported. A few more thousand were posted a little later, but then the results stayed frozen for far too long.
It was not the kind of performance to inspire confidence in the democratic process. Embarrassment is more like it. Here’s one item for the winners of Tuesday’s contests for mayor and D.C. Council to put on their agenda: Examine the operations of elections officials.