WHAT IF THEY HELD AN ELECTION AND NO ONE CAME

June 28, 2018

“It’s game time for Republicans in DC, and we’re going to suit-up and show-up to deliver the message that one party control of government is not healthy for the District. … Whether you live in Ward 8 or Ward 3, the Republican Party has a message for you — ‘Help is on the way.’” That’s an excerpt from a prepared statement released by the DC GOP soon after the city’s June 19 primary election.

 

That comment was amusing, particularly since the Republicans also held their primary, officially fielding only one — that’s right, one — candidate, despite the multiple positions up for grabs. The lone ranger among Republican wannabes was Michael Besheska; he ran for the Ward 6 seat in the DC GOP primary. He will face Democratic nominee Charles Allen and possibly others in the November general election.

 

John Fluharty, a DC Republican Party spokesperson, told me not to worry.  “[The] party plan allows us to put in candidates after the primary,” he said. The DC GOP is “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and intends to go out and “do something about it.”

 

That kind of muscular talk was almost laughable. After all, unofficial election results published on the DC Board of Elections website show that only 8.11 percent of the 29,504 registered Republicans bothered to vote last week. Fluharty said local Republicans recognize that they have their work cut out for them. The DC GOP is rebuilding from the ground up. “That is the task at hand. Look for us to be talking a lot about what it means to be an ‘urban Republican,’” continued Fluharty, adding that urban Republicans are “socially progressive and fiscally conservative.”

 

Make no mistake, the DC Republican Party’s woes began before the election of President Donald J. Trump. In the 2016 local primary, only 1,582 out of 36,766 registered Republicans voted. While slightly better in 2014, the turnout, with only 1,448 of the Republican registrants casting ballots, was pretty bad.

 

This stone I’m throwing isn’t imprinted with only the name of the Republican Party, however. All the city’s established political parties are either dead or on life-support: 13 percent of the 3,802 DC Statehood Green Party registrants participated in the 2018 primary; while they had candidates running for congressional delegate, mayor and at-large council member, those races weren’t competitive.

 

“Obviously we’d like to get a better turnout,” said Ann Wilcox, who won the Statehood Green nomination for mayor as the only candidate vying for that office. 

 

She said the party has been pursuing younger voters, especially since its agenda may be the most progressive among the local major parties: “Of the other three parties, we’re the most involved.”

 

Only 131 ballots were cast in the Libertarian Party’s primary. That amounted to 12.02 percent of the party’s 1,090 voters, according to the DC Board of Elections. Bruce Majors, a key local Libertarian Party leader, did not respond to my email requesting an interview. 

 

Don’t start saluting the Democratic Party just yet. Out of 479,723 registered voters, only 84,517 voted in the primary; that represented 17.62 percent. That was down from the 2014 primary when 99,394 or 26.93 percent of the 369,037 registered Democrats cast ballots.

 

The District has a democracy problem.

 

Many citizens aren’t participating in the civic culture, which includes voting for local elected officials. Residents may be talking the talk, holding up “the resistance continues” signs and screaming about the lack of affordable housing. But they haven’t been walking the walk.

 

Local elected officials haven’t appeared too concerned about the continuous slide in voter turnout. They have been more animated by the fact that their candidate or candidates won.

 

Further, most members of the DC Council and the attorney general have been focused on chasing down campaign finance money — who is making donations and to whom — with the promise of putting a lid on it. Money may be a corrosive element in American elections, but more damaging is the lack of significant voter participation.

 

DC Board of Elections director Alice Miller told me her office has been engaged in “outreach.” More emphasis is placed on registration, however. The office only spent $16,500 to seduce more the 80,000 registered independents to come to the polls to vote on the controversial tipped minimum wage initiative. And some advocates have complained that this year, the Board of Elections voters’ guide didn’t provide sufficient background information on the candidates running for office.

Nearly everyone in a position to inject energy into the democratic process while perhaps helping to change voting habits and outcomes has been in a “see-no-evil-posture.” They have refused to acknowledge a major hurdle to improving voting results: the decision to continue closed primaries.

 

Traditionally, only voters from the four major parties could cast a ballot. This year, however, independents or non-party registrants were allowed to cast a ballot for Initiative 77.

 

The voting results from that initiative underscore why the closed primary is ludicrous, antiquated and in need of immediate reform: 4,510 independents who normally don’t participate in a primary found their way to the polls to cast a yes-or-no Initiative 77 ballot. That was 2,207 more than the number of Republicans who voted in their primary; 4,105 more than the number of Statehood Green Party members who participated in their primary; and 4,379 more than the number of Libertarians who cast their ballots.

 

Clearly Democrats were the only group that could have been adversely affected by an open primary, where voters are free to cross party lines and base their choices more on the candidate than political affiliation. Democrats have long understood that fact. That’s why they deliberately have maintained their stranglehold on the election process, even though the obvious result has been the weakening of our democracy.

 

 

This article was first published by TheDCLine.org

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