District voters went to the polls on Nov. 8, voted early and utilized a mail-in ballot this election cycle at a lower level than the immediate past midterm election in 2018. Political practitioners and activists are speculating about why this occurred and what can be done to stimulate local voter participation in future elections.
“Voter turnout in D.C. is too low,” said Howard University political scientist Ravi Perry. “It has always been too low. I think the reason the turn out is so low has to do with the system that doesn’t incorporate us. As a result, people are disinterested.”
The D.C. Board of Election website reported on Nov. 14 that 40.22% of District voters participated in the Nov. 8 general election. That figure contrasts with the 2018 percentage of 46.29%.
In Ward 8, only 23.50% of its voters voted on Nov. 8. However, in 2018, 31.86% of Ward 8 voters participated in that election.
Ward 3, which has historically had a high voter turn out in elections, slipped from 55.47% in 2018 to 51.66% on Nov. 8.
Akosua Ali serves as the president of the D.C. branch of the NAACP. She said her organization prioritizes voter turnout.
“The NAACP mobilized organizers, volunteers and supporters in phone banking, door knocking, voter education forums and poll monitoring efforts to secure maximum midterm election ballots cast in key states nationwide,” Ali said. “Local and national voter turnout is critical to the lives of D.C. residents. In D.C., our politics are both local and national. Our local elected officials are important, but D.C.’s lack of statehood empowers Congress with significant legislative authority over the affairs of the District of Columbia. Without statehood, the people in D.C. do not have the right to pass our own laws, without congressional approval.”
Ali said “our vote is our power.”
“The NAACP is a fierce, advocate for transformative solutions to ensure Black lives are safe, healthy, thriving and valued in all spaces, and it starts with our vote,” she said.
Perry said many District residents understand the importance of voting but don’t seem to care about participating in the political process.
“We have mail-in ballots but I have heard people say they threw that in the trash with their other mail they don’t think is important,” Perry said. “All people have to do is to mark the ballot and put it in the mail or in a drop box. They don’t even want to do that. People don’t feel they have a stake in what is going on in the city. They are out of sight, out of mind.”
Perry said the District has become known as a one-party town of Democrats and that has fueled apathy, too.
“Everyone knows that the Democratic primary is the general election in D.C.,” he said. “When the primary is over, political candidates and politicians stop spending money. Voters need incentives to go to the polls and participate but they don’t have any.”
Ward 8 Democrats President Troy Prestwood said his organization has long had get-out-the-vote activities.
“The Ward 8 Democrats is committed to helping voters make informed decisions on who should represent them in the halls of power,” Prestwood said. “The work to get voters to the polls starts well before election season by helping voters identify the issues they care about deeply and providing on-ramps to get engaged.”
Prestwood said his organization held several candidate forums during the primary. Plus, he said his membership knocked on doors, provided voter education on the new developments in the electoral process and relaunched their Ward 8 Votes digital campaign to further engage voters.
“In short, for every voter planning to cast a ballot this election season, we wanted to be with them every step of the way,” Prestwood said.
Prestwood said District voters can be educated about the political process by participating in it.
“All of us must ensure voters have something to vote for, something or someone to believe in who shares their vision, value or ideal for the community they want,” he said. “We must actively share that voting can improve their lives or that of their families, neighbors and friends. Sitting it out does not.”