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Nonpartisan Groups Aid Voter Registration Efforts in D.C.

The District’s civic, neighborhood and some public organizations have instituted measures to increase residents’ participation in the political process and the Nov. 3 general election by sponsoring voter registration drives and education campaigns on candidates and the electoral process.

The District’s general election ballot will offer residents the opportunity to vote for public offices from U.S. president to their single-member district advisory neighborhood commissioner. W. Earl Williams, the president of the D.C. Citizens Federation and a member of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association in Ward 7, said civic and neighborhood associations—which are designed toencourage and facilitate communal participation in local matters of interest — should embolden residents to vote in this year’s election.

It is our important civic duty to encourage our neighbors to vote in this election,” Williams said. “This election is a turning point in our country. Everybody should have the chance to be heard.”

While political clubs have long sponsored voter registration drives to get residents processed to vote in primaries, special and general elections, civic, neighborhood and even government agencies have held events with the same purpose in mind, without the partisan bent. The League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia serves as an example of this type of organization and Kathy P. Chiron, the president, champions her group’s nonpartisan charge.

“We make it a point to register to vote anyone who is eligible, and we don’t ask party affiliation,” Chiron said.

The League, operating since 1920, bills itself on its website “as the premier source for nonpartisan election information.” In terms of voter registration, the website said,We register voters across the city every year and actively encourage all citizens to vote.

“We concentrate our registration drives at locations in the city where D.C. residents are less likely to be registered to vote or participate in election,” the website said.

Chiron said since the advent of the coronavirus in the District in mid-March, the League has worked with the D.C. Board of Elections to help residents register to vote virtually and online and has held a limited number of in-person events such as hosting a table outside of the MOM’S Organic Market in the Ivy City-Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast on Sept. 22. Chiron said members of her organization have mounted posters encouraging residents to vote throughout the District in apartment buildings, liquor stores and retail establishments. The League has interacted with neighborhood list serves, faith-based groups and has utilized social media “as best as we can, Chiron said. She also said postcards have been sent to residents.

Chiron said the League will work with residents and the board of elections to make sure the mail-in ballot process will go as smoothly as possible. This year, the board decided to mail all registered voters a ballot they can send in by mail or put in a dropbox and Chiron said part of her organization’s education campaign will be to inform residents how the process works.

“Presently, there will be 55 dropboxes in the city and there will be dropboxes in the D.C. jail and at senior citizen centers,” she said.

She said the League will encourage residents to vote as early as possible.

“When you get that ballot, send it in as soon as possible,” Chiron said. “If you get it in early and there are errors, corrections can be made before Election Day. Also, early voting begins on Oct. 27 and we encourage people to take advantage of that to avoid long lines on Election Day.”

While the League works on a nonpartisan basis, the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Service, a government agency, held a nonpartisan voter registration event on Sept.22 aimed at registering young people at its facility in the Gallery Place neighborhood in Northwest. Janay Williams, the program manager for the Achievement Center where the event took place coordinated the drive with the purpose of getting young people politically motivated.

“I would like to highlight the fact that we are asking kids to get registered and we are doing it in a safe place,” she said. “While the focus is on the young people we serve, anyone could come in and register. We have representatives from the board of election to help.”

Williams said she has noticed an interest in politics among her constituents spurred by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as the first woman of color being tapped to run on a presidential ticket as vice president.

“A lot of youth is excited about Harris,” Williams said. “Some of them are looking at her and saying if she can do it, so can I. It has encouraged them to go through obstacles in their life.”

Citizens Federation president Williams said he, too, has noticed African America interest in the election lately.

“I think the African American turnout will be higher than it was in 2016,” he said. “If the Black turnout had been in 2016 what it was in 2012, our country will not be in the situation it is in now. I also think the at-large council races have generated a lot of interest in the city. As a result, it is up to the civic organizations to provide people the information so they can vote effectively and safely.”

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