Tuesday’s mayoral primary in Washington D.C. left the natives so apathetic that the turnout was the worst in more than 30 years. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, running for reelection despite three resignations from the D.C. Council because of corruption or fraud charges, got bounced by his Democratic Party voters, who chose Muriel Bowser instead.
Out of the almost 370,000 possible voters in the primary, roughly 23% voted. In the last thirty years, the lowest percentage of voters in the mayoral primaries was 32%. Apparently there is apathy among democratic voters in big cities across the nation; in Chicago, Rahm Emanuel won the mayor’s election with only 42% of voters taking part; in New York, the recent Democratic primary that elected Bill de Blasio showed only 23% of voters voting.
Tamara Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Board of Elections, admitted, “It was definitely much lower than we had anticipated. We had been hoping for 40 percent turnout, and we got little over half of that.” She blamed the snowy weather and the numerous candidates as reasons for voter apathy, saying, “When you have such a large field of candidates, it makes it harder for voters to decide. Some people, for whatever reason, might have decided to sit this one out.”
Robinson added that 5,319 absentee ballots were requested, and roughly 10,000 provisional ballots have not been counted. But even if all of those votes were counted, only 275 of voters would have voted.
Gray’s vote total dropped by 46,000 from 2010; and almost 52,000 fewer Democratic voters participated than in 2010. Even Gray’s attempt to woo African-American voters in wards 7 and 8 didn’t help; his winning margin there dropped from 34,500 in 2010 to 5,100 in 2014.
Michael P. McDonald, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University, had his own explanation for the low voter turnout, saying, “Part of it is interest, and part of it’s awareness … (the turnout was) actually pretty good in comparison to other places in the country.”