While the District of Columbia has always voted for the Democratic Party nominee for president since becoming an Electoral College jurisdiction in 1964, a group of political scientists recently urged city residents to cast a ballot in the Nov. 8 general election anyway.
On Sept. 25 a forum was held at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church’s Panorama Room in Southeast Washington entitled “Why We Must Vote.” The panel was sponsored by the church’s women’s ministry and moderated by Dr. Dianne M. Pinderhughes, a Notre Dame University scholar. The panel included Ronald Jackson Jr., senior director for Government Affairs for Catholic Charities USA; Clarence Lusane, chairman of the Howard University Department of Political Science; Lorenzo Morris, a political scientist at Howard; and Toni-Michelle C. Travis, a political scientist who teaches at George Mason University.
However, it was Chearie Phelps-El, a District political activist not on the panel, who set the tone for the forum. “Voting is very important,” Phelps-El said to an audience of 63 people. “Our forefathers and foremothers fought for this right. No one can change our conditions but you.”
She said that nearly anyone over the age of 17, who has lived in the District for a month, can cast a ballot. She noted that convicted felons who have served their sentence and those incarcerated in the D.C. jail awaiting trial or convicted of misdemeanors can vote in the District.
Pinderhughes said the forum was non-partisan by design but the panelists spoke their mind about the presidential election.
Jackson said that given the District’s flexible voting requirements, there is no excuse for any resident not to exercise the privilege. “I want you to vote, I want you to vote, I want you to vote,” Jackson said. “I know this is a non-partisan event but I know who you should vote for president. She is the most qualified person to be president and on the other hand, her opponent, is the most unqualified person to be president.”
Jackson was referring to Democratic nominee Hillary R. Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump, respectively. Jackson had harsh words for Trump, whom he didn’t mention by name. “He’s a hatemonger, he’s a billionaire,” he said. “What has a billionaire ever done for you?”
Travis said one of the casualties of this election is the ticket of one of the minor parties. “The Libertarian Party has a pretty good field with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson running for president and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld as his running mate,” she said. “They have no chance of winning because they are a third party and third parties don’t win national elections.”
Lusane raised eyebrows when he said that America is in the midst of “one of the most dangerous moments in this country’s history since the Civil War.”
“There are less and less White people in the country today than ever before and more people of color,” he said. “Many Whites don’t know what to do about that. Many Whites believe that racism exists and that they are the victims. Whites believe that their problems aren’t the result of billionaires like Donald Trump or the corporate structure but it is people of color causing their problems.”
Morris said that Whites, as a voting group, aren’t emerging as the most potent voting bloc in recent elections. “African-American women are the most powerful voting bloc in the country and they will be the No. 1 group, in terms of percentages, that will be voting on Election Day,” he said. “Statistics have shown that the greatest decline in voting has taken place among White males because they seem to be disinterested in the process.”
Jackson said District residents should do one thing before they vote. “Do your homework,” he said. “Find out about the candidates for whatever office they are running for and where they stand on the issues.”
In the back of the room were volunteers who were registered voters and providing information for the general election. Bonita H. Boulware, president of the church’s women’s ministry, complimented the panelists for their participation. “We’ve had a lot to take in today,” she said.