Could the Democratic primary in two weeks turn out to be “Bush v. Gore in D.C.?”
Maybe no hanging chads or midnight Supreme Court session, but with an unprecedented number of “disputed” provisional or “special ballots” predicted to be cast, D.C. Board of Elections officials will be hard pressed to declare a definitive winner in the hotly contested mayoral race for the Democratic primary after the polls close on Sept. 14.
The anticipated final vote count may not be known for at least a week, or even longer if the ballots wind up before the two-member elections board or the D.C. Court of Appeals, predict some D.C. watchers.
Janene D. Jackson, senior vice president of government relations and public policy for the DC Chamber of Commerce, predicts “it could be Bush versus Gore in D.C.” Unless, she adds, “there is an overwhelming margin” for the victor.
Already the board has set aside three days the Tuesday after the primary to conduct a “special ballot” review. Already each campaign has hired a fleet of lawyers. Already scores of voters have been purged from the registration rolls. Already not a pretty picture.
In the District with the overwhelming majority of registered voters being Democrats, the September primary is tantamount to a November general election.
This year’s combative campaign between incumbent D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray is tortoise-hare race that no one dared predict a year ago, with the incumbent lagging behind in the latest polling data despite having amassed a hefty war chest and garnered biased mainstream media backing.
Losing ground may be why Fenty shamelessly tried to cull a cadre of newcomers by petitioning the board of elections to allow independents to cast ballots in the D.C. Democratic primary for the first time. His 11th-hour request was properly denied.
Although District voters have the first-time opportunity to begin early voting at One Judiciary Square a full two weeks before the primary, election day is still shaping up to be mired in mass chaos with so many major changes taking place at the polling precincts under new council rules. There are also bound to be long lines as unaware voters will be forced to fill out paperwork to apply for or update their registration.
Those who thought this would be the best year to implement the omnibus voting rights measures are probably rethinking these massive changes now the race has tightened and the electorate is more energized.
Early voting, same day registration, new voting machines and a host of other new regulations will only add to the confusion bound to occur given that the board of elections purged the voter rolls only 60 days before the primary.
With too little notice too late, some observers and citizens are complaining the board “has not engaged in a proactive campaign” to inform voters of the changes, while the more suspect are throwing around more sinister accusations of voter intimidation and tampering.
Jackson painted a scenario in which a voter may show up to vote, not be properly registered and not have proper identification and not be allowed to vote or may have to vote a special ballot. She noted that just prior to the 2000 presidential campaign, Florida purged its voter registration rolls which disproportionately disenfranchised African Americans.
Barbara B. Lang, president and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed Mr. Gray, said “Regardless of which candidate a voter may support, we want to see as many residents participate in the electoral process.”
Vote early, but check your voter registration card immediately if you want to vote in the D.C. Democratic primary. That word comes not only from those concerned about voting rights in the District but from the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics itself.
Just days before early voting was set to begin on Aug., 30, the agency sent out a 10-point media advisory urging voters to check their new voter registration cards, sent out only a week prior. If you haven’t received it go to www.dcboee.org.
Take two forms of identification and a utility bill as proof of residence with you to the polls even if you think you are properly registered.
No one wants a “D.C. version of Bush v. Gore” replayed come Sept. 14.
Adrienne T. Washington is a D.C.-based political commentator and journalism professor.