DC Primary Suffered from ‘Failed Execution’

Voters Wait Hours After Curfew to Vote

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Deanwood resident Cathryn Paul and her fiancé, Xavier Francis, take a selfie as they wait to vote. It would be more than 4 hours before they could vote in-person at Deanwood Recreation Center June 2. Courtesy: Cathryn Paul

With about 83,000 votes counted, incumbent Councilmembers Trayon White, Sr. (Ward 8-D) and Vincent Gray (Ward 7-D) appear to have clinched their re-nomination by the Democratic Party in a June 2 Primary Election that stretched from Tuesday into Wednesday.

Speaking Wednesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser said, “I know that DC voters spent hours in the polls yesterday, and that is nothing short of failed execution.”

It was an election complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a fifth day of protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. DCBOE reduced the number of in-person voting centers, encouraging voters to request mail-in ballots to reduce the spread of the virus. In the wake of vandalism, robbery and tension between protesters and officers, Mayor Bowser ordered a 7 p.m. curfew for June 2, the night of the Primary Election.

Incumbents Retain Seats

According to DCBOE, about 16 percent of voters registered in Wards 7 and 8 cast votes in-person or via mail as of June 3. The situation was complicated by difficulties requesting and receiving mail-in ballots and waits, some reportedly more than four hours long, to vote in person.

Although not official, leaders in the Ward 7 and 8 races seem unlikely to change. As of Wednesday morning, Ward 8 Councilmember White had 58.87 percent, or 4,050 votes; his next closest challenger, Mike Austin, came in at 26.18 percent. 38 people cast their votes for Nate Derenge, who won the Republican nomination for the Ward 8 election.

Meanwhile, Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent C. Gray received 4,119 votes, or 45.69 percent, a healthy lead over the closest challenger Veda Rasheed, who had 22.72 percent of the vote as of Wednesday morning. Gray won the 2016 primary by a margin of more than 27 percent.

Results are not yet official because about 41,000 mail-in ballots have not yet been received. Those postmarked by June 2 now have until June 9 to get to DCBOE, the board said. Reports have indicated that DCBOE will not release final election results until after that date.

Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D), Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which has oversight over DCBOE, reacted with disapproval to the reports, saying counts should be released as they are available.

“Votes have been cast – they must be counted & the results made public,” Allen wrote in a June 2 Twitter post. “The polls are closed [and] there is no public interest served in refusing to release election results that have been returned & counted.”

However, the mail-in count is unlikely to have much effect on the Ward 7 and 8 races. There were 7,233 requests for mail-in ballots were received from Ward 7 and 3,800 from Ward 8.

Waited Hours After Curfew

With many voters choosing to vote in-person, long lines were reported at vote centers, including Deanwood Recreation Center in Ward 7 and Malcolm X Opportunity Center in Ward 8. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, voting centers were reduced in number from 144 to only 20, with restrictions on the number allowed inside at any one time. Many voting centers did not close until well after midnight, even as a 7 p.m. District-wide curfew was ordered for a second day by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D). Voters in line before 8 p.m. could vote and were officially exempt from the curfew.

However, the curfew played a role as those living in Wards 7 and Were forced to decide whether they would venture out to vote amidst a tense and potentially volatile time. Deanwood resident Cathryn Paul and her fiancé, Xavier Francis, voted in-person at Deanwood Recreation Center.

“First of all, me and my fiancé are both black,” she said. “I think we already were feeling scared right now, especially with stories of DC residents having to stay in strangers’ homes to avoid arrest.”

With so much going on right now, she said, the two did not request mail-in ballots, and figured they could vote in-person at the Deanwood Recreation Center, located only three minutes away from their home. “If I’d known it would take more than four hours, I might have made a different decision,” she said.

Still, Paul said there was a silver lining to the wait. While in line, voters had conversations about the changes that must happen in the community, about topics like gentrification, housing and the impact of COVID-19. “It was a moment for us to really reimagine our neighborhood,” she said.

Like Paul and Francis, many of those waiting in line to vote were black, and she said that added to the sense of civic responsibility, she said. “When someone was talking about leaving, everyone was like, ‘No. We’re doing this,” she said. Many of those waiting had intended to join the protests afterward, she said. “But everyone understood that protests go hand-in-hand with voting, and we have to do both.”

Paul and Francis finally voted on Wednesday at about 12:10 p.m. About 75 people remained when she left, Paul said, down from 100 or so who had been behind her when the line was cut off at 8 p.m.

While voters were aware that they were in the middle of a public health crisis, Paul said they were still frustrated with the situation. “We did our part in showing up and the government didn’t do theirs to make voting accessible,” she said. “This can’t happen in November.”

Public Hearing Announced

Councilmember Elissa Silverman (At-Large-D) visited Ward 4 voting center Emery Rec at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday to find more than 60 voters in line. She said she would send a letter to DCBOE asking for an explanation, noting that her office had forwarded about 500 requests for ballots over the two days preceding the election. “A full investigation is needed given voters were likely disenfranchised due to this screwup. Unacceptable.”

Saying the delays, lines and missed mail-in ballots put residents’ right to vote in jeopardy, on June 3 Councilmember Allen announced a public oversight hearing focusing on the DCBOE performance in conducting the primary elections. The meeting will be held via zoom from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, June 19.

Anyone wishing to testify at the roundtable should contact the Committee via email at judiciary@dccouncil.us and provide their name, telephone number, organizational affiliation, and title (if any), by close of business Monday, June 15.

Witnesses should submit a copy of any written testimony electronically in advance to judiciary@dccouncil.us by the end of the business day on Wednesday, June 17. Copies of written statements can be submitted to the Committee at judiciary@dccouncil.us. The record will close at the end of the business day on Friday, July 3.

Unofficial election results are available from DCBOE at https://electionresults.dcboe.org/election_results/2020-Primary-Election