Politics

Endorsements, Voting Changes Ramp Up as D.C. Primary Looms

The upcoming June 2 primary has produced important endorsements in the ward D.C. Council seat races and changes in the city’s voting system that includes absentee mail-in ballots.

Candidate forums have been taking place throughout the District, including a May 16 virtual event primarily sponsored by the Ward 8 Democrats. The forum featured D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), shadow Sen. Paul Strauss (D), D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At Large), Ward 8 Council member Trayon White (D) and Ward 8 council hopefuls Mike Austin, Yaida Ford and Fred Hill.

Troy Donte Prestwood, president of the Ward 8 Democrats, said the forum aimed to inform voters on the pertinent issues of the day. However, Prestwood said his organization didn’t use the forum as a vehicle for endorsements, breaking with tradition.

“The executive board decided not to do an endorsement forum,” he said. “During endorsement forums, registered Democrats in Ward 8 can come by and vote for the candidate they support. We couldn’t do that because of problems with verification due to the state of emergency in the city and we didn’t want to disenfranchise anyone because of that. Voters in Ward 8 can make up their own minds whom they want to support.”

In addition to Ward 8, there are council races in Wards 2, 4 and 7 and the candidates have actively sought endorsements from politically active groups in the District. In Ward 8, White has been endorsed by such organizations as the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU), Sierra Club, Jews for Justice, Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO, American Transit Union Local 689 and American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1975 and holds a dual endorsement with Austin from the Greater Greater Washington blog.

In Ward 7, Council member Vincent Gray (D), running for his third full term as the ward’s legislator, is backed by the Sierra Club and Greater Greater Washington but one of his opponents, Anthony Lorenzo Green, has won the support of the AFL-CIO, the WTU and DC for Democracy.

In Ward 4, Council member Brandon Todd (D) has gotten the endorsement of business groups such as the District of Columbia Association of Realtors and the Associated Builders and Contractors and unions such as AFSCME and AFGE, as well as the support of council Chair Phil Mendelson (D). However, one of his challengers, Janeese Lewis George, has received the support of D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, as well as DC for Democracy, Greater Greater Washington, the WTU, Jews for Justice and Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large).

“Thinking through how to lead D.C. out of this public health and economic crisis into recovery and on to a more equitable, prosperous city for all was the deciding factor,” Silverman said in a statement. “For two decades, Ward 4 has had good constituent services when government falls short on an individual level, but this isn’t a sustainable approach to creating better lives for everyone.”

Endorsements in political races do matter, according to an article that appeared on the website Online Candidate, titled, “Do Candidate Endorsements Matter?”

“Political candidates can increase name recognition and establish credibility by winning endorsements,” the article said. “Some endorsements can be very valuable, as they can carry with them additional campaign support, including contributions, phone banks, volunteers, get-out-the-vote efforts and more.”

As the race for endorsements continues, the manner in which the primary will be conducted has changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. There will be 20 voting centers throughout the city where residents of any ward can vote in the June 2 primary, as opposed to the usual precincts. The voting centers will open daily from May 22-June 2 with the exception of Memorial Day.

The D.C. Board of Elections encourages residents to vote by absentee ballot sent in by mail. Request for mail-in ballots must be made to the elections board by May 26.

Charles Wilson, chair of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, said the manner in which the primary operates has changed but voter participation must continue to be a priority.

“We recognize this is new for everybody,” he said. “We want to make sure that people are voting safely and voting by mail is the most optimal way to do that. We don’t want people to get infected at the polls and that is why social distancing will be practiced at the polling sites.”

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