Voters in the District of Columbia head to the polls on Tuesday to conclude the presidential primary season and determine how the last 45 delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be allotted. With the final primary playing a mostly ceremonial role in the nominee selection process, there is a sense that the District is once again being given the short end of the stick compared to the 50 states.
“In some ways it does a disservice to our democracy,” said Josh Nierman, a District resident and Bernie Sanders supporter. “If the primary is already determined, then why should I go out and vote anyway?”
Nierman, who works as a property manager for an affordable housing nonprofit organization, said he will vote nevertheless. He said that while he feels the media and the Democratic National Committee have written off the importance of Tuesday’s primary, he is glad that it has generated conversation about granting statehood to the District – something supported by both Sanders and his rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I’d like to see whoever is the next president make D.C. the 51st state,” he said. “It’s frustrating that we don’t have full representation in Congress.
With Clinton’s primary victory in California last week that gave her the needed number of delegates to clinch her party’s nomination, the contest is all but over. But with Sanders promising to stay in the race until the convention next month in Philadelphia, the District of Columbia’s more than 400,000 registered voters still have a say.
“Shame on D.C. for scheduling its primary last,” said Steve Rabinowitz, who heads the Bluelight Strategies public relations firm and lives in Northwest D.C.
Rabinowitz, a longtime Clinton supporter, noted that the District’s primary could have had an impact if the race were close. But voting has now become an afterthought for many voters. He thinks Clinton will do well due to the city’s large African American population.
Even Sanders supporters beyond the confines of the Beltway see the District’s vote as an important part of the electoral process.
“I think that it’s important for everybody’s vote to be counted before decisions are made, particularly before the press makes decisions on behalf of the public,” said Daniel Sieradski of Syracuse, N.Y., who runs the Sanders political action committee Progressive Jews PAC.
Sieradski criticized major news outlets like the Associated Press for declaring Clinton the winner of the contest by counting the 577 super delegates who are pledged to her.
“It amounts to voter suppression,” he said. “Not only is that silly and harmful, but it was just irresponsible behavior partially driven by media companies in a difficult climate to attract internet attention.”
The perception of D.C. having little or no impact on this year’s election is the latest in a series of blows to residents who for years have felt left out of national politics, with the irony that they live in the nation’s capital.
This frustration has been fueled by a struggle for voting rights that lasted until the 1960s with passage of the 23rd Amendment and has resulted in multiple calls recently for granting the District statehood.
Despite scheduling its primary later than others, The District of Columbia Board of Elections is seeking to break its record turnout level of 59.5 percent that it reached in 2008 according to an op-ed in The Current Newspapers by Board Chairman D. Michael Bennett and members Dionna Maria Lewis and Michael D. Gill.
The board of elections also provided early voting at nine locations that began May 31 and ran through June 11. City councilwoman Brianne Nadeau said she has observed a high early voting turnout, and went to the polls herself a few days after they opened – a process she said took five minutes.
“A lot of them have either already voted or are ready to go on Tuesday,” she said. “I love voting early and I think that’s a really special thing that we have in the District of Columbia.”
Nadeau, a Clinton supporter, has been trying to mobilize local voters. She said that despite the District’s late voting date, it still has importance both for the presidential race and for competitive council races, such as those happening in Wards 4, 7 and 8, which include the northern, eastern and southeastern sections of the District.
“Hillary supporters need to have a strong showing for our candidate, and her campaign has demonstrated a commitment to the District of Columbia,” Nadeau said.
Linda Benesch, a member of Jews United for Justice, also voted early and took a picture of herself with her boyfriend heading to the polls in order to encourage others to follow suit. She hopes others will understand the importance of the election even if it does not have a large national impact.
“What I hope is that more D.C. residents will take the opportunity of the fact that there is not as much need to focus on the presidential race at this point to focus on their local races, because we really make much more of a difference in our vote for city council than we do with our vote for president,” she said.
Benesch acknowledged that an earlier primary would have been a fairer gesture to a jurisdiction that has long been put on the back burner.
“If it was up to me it would definitely be earlier because as it is, D.C. has the indignity of not being a state, not getting full representation in Congress, and so I do think that giving us a fair share in the presidential primary by moving it up to where it’s more of a decision would be very good,” she said.