Sunday, February 13, 2011

Abysmal Voter Turnout in DC’s Special Elections

There has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about voter turnout for special elections since the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) will conduct a citywide Special Election on Tuesday, April 26, 2011. The election will be held for voters to choose an at-Large Member of the D.C. City Council created when Councilmember Kwame Brown won the office of Chairman of the Council last year.

Between 1993 and 2000, the BOEE conducted four citywide special elections with abysmally low voter turnout of 5.5% to a high of 25.7%. The turnout for the September 14, 1993, Special Election for Council Chairman was the highest with 25.7%. The July 22, 1997, Special Election for Council Chairman resulted in the lowest voter turnout of the four at 5.5%. The December 2, 1997 Special Election for at-Large Councilmember rose slightly to 7.5%. And the June 27, 2000, Special Election on Proposed Charter Amendment III garnered 12.2%.

As was the case with these elections, the BOEE will open all voting precincts citywide on April 26. According to the DCBOEE’s testimony before the D.C. Council, it will cost District taxpayers approximately $828,731.02 to open all 143 precincts in the eight wards operating with skeletal staffing. It sounds like a high cost to taxpayers, but to do anything differently this close to the election could end up disenfranchising voters.

Going forward special elections could be conducted differently at lower costs, but that can not happen until there has been a change in the District’s election laws, election regulations, and voter education procedures are in place.

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