By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, jwright@afro.com

The June 19 District of Columbia primary election produced one of the lowest voter turnouts in many years. That has prompted the city to add an additional mode of voting- mail-in ballots.

Leaders of the Ward 8 Democrats announced they will lead an effort to include mail-in voting to increase participation in District elections.

“In the June primary, there were 4,436 votes cast in Ward 8 out of 55,000 that were cast throughout the city,” Charles Wilson, the president of the Ward 8 Democrats, said at the meeting. “That is a 7.9 percent turnout in the ward and that’s not good at all.”

Charles Wilson Jr. is striving to make changes in the Ward 8 community in southeast D.C. (Courtesy photo)

Wilson said he understood some of the reasons his fellow ward neighbors didn’t go to the polls. He pointed out that there was no serious challenger to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and no Ward 8 election for the D.C. Council member seat either.

Wilson said many Ward 8 residents have problems with transportation to the polls and some are disenchanted with the District’s political system. With all the talk about Initiative 77, which would change the way tipped workers are compensated, one would have expected more of a response but that didn’t happen, Wilson said.

Fifty-eight percent of Ward 8 voters supported the initiative changing the tipping laws.

Wilson, along with Ward 8A04 advisory neighborhood commissioner Troy Donte Prestwood, encouraged the use of mail-in voting as a solution to the low voter turnout. “People won’t have to go to a polling place, they can simply put their ballot in the mail,” Prestwood said. “This will give people more options in voting.”

Presently, Oregon, Colorado and Washington are the only states in the country where all elections are conducted solely by mail. Utah and California allow counties to opt for the mail-in voting system and the city of Rockville, Maryland will conduct a pilot program in 2019.

Philip Pannell, a longtime Democratic activist in Ward 8, has advocated for mail-in voting, saying it will increase the voting of Ward 8 residents, as well as other residents east of the Anacostia River. Wilson, who penned an opinion article in The Washington Post  about the issue, wrote that in the District, mail-in voting can be combined with voting in person. He said, “Residents are already bombarded with voter guides and education materials in the weeks before Election Day. Why not pair this effort with a ballot? It’s a simple, cost-effective and progressive measure that has proved to boost turnout in Oregon, Colorado and Washington state.”

Wilson’s effort is producing results. He said D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) will introduce emergency legislation later this month for the possible use of mail-in voting for a Dec. 4 special election for the Ward 4 D.C. State Board of Education race.

In addition, notwithstanding Allen’s legislation, the District’s Board of Elections is considering launching a mail-in vote option as a pilot for the Dec. 4 election.

“Mail-in voting is a good way for Ward 8 residents and District residents to get involved in the political process,” Wilson said.