After DC’s June primary, I had several conversations with some folks I know who consider themselves political pundits and mavens and they all commented that the Democratic turnout was good with 34% of the voters participating.
My response to them is that we in the United States have become victims of low expectations.
In the 2020 presidential election the headlines proclaimed a record turnout with nearly two-thirds of voters casting ballots in the election that featured the Demonic Donald. Yes, it was record breaking but one out of three voters did not cast a ballot. Would you like your income or bank account to be reduced by a third?
Blessedly DC has made voting extremely convenient. For the June primary every voter was mailed a ballot with a postage-paid return envelope. There was a week of early voting. East of the river had more voting drop boxes than food markets. And most voting precincts were open on Election Day. In the face of all that convenience 2 out of 3 DC voters still did not participate. I await the cost benefit analysis for the recent primary. But I am certain that I will wait a long time before progressive election reform is achieved in our city.
When will we have a candid and honest community conversation about the impact of illiteracy on voting turnout? Every voter was mailed a ballot for the primary. In 2020 every residence was mailed a U.S. Census forum.
Some of the same factors that led to people not returning Census forms were in play in June when they did not return their ballots. We must grapple with the fact that many persons have difficulty reading the ballots. Now that voting by mail is probably here to stay in DC, when will the Democratic Party come up with a strategy to deal with the impact of illiteracy on turnout?
I heard several elderly residents complain that although the ballots were mailed to them U.S. Postal mailboxes and DC voting drop boxes were not easy to access. A collective strategy needs to be devised to deal with that problem. So far, ballot harvesting is not illegal in DC and an ethical and safe form of that process should be explored.
In my opinion, DC should move its Election Day in non-presidential years to the weekends and have voting on Saturday and Sunday. And, of course, the United States should do the same for federal elections.
The June Democratic primary resulted in only three winners for public office being nominated with a majority of the vote: Council Chair, Delegate to Congress and Ward 6 Councilmember. The Democratic nominees in the other races all won with pluralities. It is distressing that in DC a majority of the votes is not required to win elections. If the political powers that be will not institute Rank Choice Voting, at least mandate runoffs with the top two vote getters. It is unconscionable and reprehensible that in one of the races a two-term incumbent won the Democratic nomination with just 36% of the vote.
With DC now having public financed elections, we will have more contests with a multitude of candidates. Some candidates with not a snow ball’s chance in hell will throw their hats in the ring because the taxpayers will fund their political sandboxes. When there are ballots with more than two candidates, ballot position plays more of a role than usual. The candidate that is first on the ballot gets a boost and to mitigate this unfair advantage the order of the candidates should be rotated among the ballots.
It is time that our political leaders have frank conversations and make the hard choice about permitting independents to vote in party primaries. In a 1994 voter initiative term limits were overwhelmingly approved and the 13-member Council overturned the voters. Maybe that should be taken to the voters again. If our public elected officials will not give us election reform, then it is time to take it to the people.
Are DC’s progressives up to wearing out some shoe leather to achieve election reform?
Long-time Ward 8 community activist Philip Pannell can be contacted at email@example.com.