Photo by BOEE
The New and Improved Sample Ballot for Mayoral Primary
The New and Improved Sample Ballot for Mayoral Primary

Expect to see some changes in this year’s local elections. If you’re a registered Democrat living in the District, your land line might be ringing off the hook starting August 30 with campaign phone calls. If you’re turning 18 before November 2, 2010, you will count as a legal adult starting September 14 – at least for the purpose of voting in the primary.  If registering to vote slipped your mind, no sweat, you can register on or before the day of the primary. 

The D.C. Council and the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) wants to give a “progressive opportunity for new voters to have access to the polls,” says spokeswoman Alysoun McLaughlin. In addition to greater accessibility, there will be new high-tech voting machines. The machines will provide both an electronic and a paper record of each vote. The BOEE is auditing the election by counting the paper votes after the election.  

These changes were made last November when Councilmember Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) headed up a Council committee to investigate voting equipment problems during the 2008 election. The committee passed a series of reforms allowing easier access for more voters.

The new rule is that 17-year-olds can vote in the primary as long as they turn 18 by November 2, which will bring up the number of young voters. “Seven weeks of birthdays for 17 year olds,” explains McLaughlin, will now be allowed to vote in the primary. As of today, only 66 people turning 18 before the general election have registered according to McLaughlin. 

The two frontrunners in the upcoming Democratic mayoral primary, Mayor Adrian Fenty and Council Chairman Vincent Gray are both eager to capture the youth vote. Fenty is being “very aggressive” on the campaign trail says campaign spokesperson, Sean Madigan. One of the ways the Fenty campaign is trying to reel in young voters is through GoGo rallies. (GoGo is a subgenre of funk music popular in D.C.)

Traci Hughes, press secretary for Gray, tells the Dish, “ We have a large support base of young voters,” adding, “Numbers are going up everyday.” The “godfather of Go-go,” Chuck Brown, is backing Gray.

The number of voters casting their ballots early is also expected to increase. Voters can mail their registration before August 16 or stop by One Judiciary Square in person to register before August 27. Once voting begins on Monday, August 30, all registrations will be processed as same-day registration.

Fenty and Gray are putting in time and cash to get voters out early. Neither campaign says they’re worried about voters who register last minute being less informed about the issues or candidates.

Ron Moten, the co-founder of Peaceoholics and an avid Fenty supporter, says that understanding the history of crime in the District is crucial. “A lot of people just moved here, and they don’t know what it was like in the 1990s,” Moten says, “You forget how they were real fast.” Newly registered voters are looking for more information according to Moten, who says, “It’s just a matter of reaching out for them more.”

In prior elections, voters had to provide a reason for voting before the election date. Now, no excuse is needed in order to vote early now, so the BOEE hopes more D.C. residents will participate – no excuse.

The BOEE is also taking measures to protect against voting fraud. “No one who registers on the day of election is casting a live ballot,” says McLaughlin. Each ballot will be evaluated before the election is certified.

During early voting, the BOEE will update their records each day. The results will be available on their websites. This means that the mayoral candidates will be able to keep tabs on who has and hasn’t voted, and adjust their campaigns accordingly.

The Dish asked both Fenty and Gray about their plans to take advantage of knowing who has voted, but their plans are like a summer camp secret. “We don’t really want to show our hand too much with the tactics of our campaign,” says Madigan. Gray’s troops are also keeping their strategy locked up. “We’re not going public with how we identify voters,” says Hughes. 

Moten says he appreciates the final lap sprint to win voters. The candidates’ efforts “are going to make a lot of people come out to the polls, who wouldn’t have come out,” Moten says.  We’ll have to wait until the summer campaign ends, ten days after the primary, to find out the victor in the battle for early voters.